WASHINGTON — Trent Grisham's eyes were still red, his cheeks stained by tears, as a group of Milwaukee Brewers teammates gathered near his locker in the visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park to offer hugs and words of encouragement.
Everything was going according to plan for manager Craig Counsell and the Brewers — get a lead, mix and match with the bullpen — until, suddenly, it wasn't. Milwaukee was undone by wildness from closer Josh Hader and an error by Grisham in right field that allowed the go-ahead run to score with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning.
It added up to a gut-punch of a 4-3, season-ending loss to the Washington Nationals in the NL wild-card game Tuesday night.
“It’s going to sting. It’s going to sting for a long time. Essentially gifting the Nationals a Divisional [Series] berth,” Grisham said. “It’s going to hurt. I expect it to hurt.”
He is a 22-year-old rookie who debuted Aug. 1 and played in only 51 major league games this season, taking over in right primarily after 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich went down for the year after fracturing his right kneecap on Sept. 10.
“It's going to be magnified because of the big stage, but he's a huge reason that we're even playing in this game. He has a lot to be proud of in his first taste of the big leagues,” Yelich said. “I feel for him. If you play baseball long enough, you're going to be in these situations. You're going to come up short sometimes. It's part of being a professional athlete. He'll be just fine.”
Even without Yelich, Milwaukee managed to surge into the playoffs, winning 18 of 20 games during one stretch and relying on a strong bullpen.
That formula appeared set to work again Tuesday.
“If you could have told me we’d hand the ball with six outs to go [to] Josh,” Counsell said, “that would have fit our script really, really well. It just didn’t play.”
Milwaukee went to the bottom of the eighth leading 3-1, thanks to homers by Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames. Starting pitcher Brandon Woodruff tossed four innings, Brent Suter threw one and Drew Pomeranz two.
Then it was time for Hader, a hard-throwing All-Star lefty who saved 37 games this year. He loaded the bases with two outs, hitting one batter with a pitch, walking another and allowing a broken-bat bloop single.
That brought up Juan Soto, the Nationals' 20-year-old cleanup hitter, who smacked a 96 mph fastball into right. Two runs scored easily on the play — and that would have been it had Grisham fielded the ball cleanly. But he missed it, letting it skip under his glove and past him.
That miscue let the go-ahead run score.
“Came in a little off balance,” Grisham said. “Kind of took a little funky hop on me.”
Soon thereafter, a Brewers team that made it all the way to Game 7 of the NL Championship Series a year ago was done.
Like so many of their teammates, Hader tried to let Grisham off the hook.
“It’s not anything on him,” Hader said. “It comes down to me making my pitches.”