MILWAUKEE (AP) - No matter how poorly the Milwaukee Brewers played on the road this season, returning to Miller Park always provided a big boost - until Monday night.
The Brewers without Ryan Braun couldn't figure out Jeff Niemann, who tossed six scoreless innings in his return from a back injury to lift the Tampa Bay Rays to an 8-4 victory at Milwaukee.
``You always want to go out and compete and do your best,' Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. ``I think we're going to turn it around real soon. We've had a tough little stretch here. We ran into the Red Sox, who are a very good club, at home. The Rays come in and they're a good team too. They took advantage of our mistakes tonight.'
Milwaukee remains a majors-best 25-10 at home, but went 2-5 on the road since sweeping the Cardinals out of first place just over a week ago and fell a half-game behind idle St. Louis with the loss back at Miller Park.
The Brewers started coming unglued in the sixth inning.
Trailing 1-0, Nyjer Morgan was hit by a pitch, but ordered back to the box by plate umpire Bob Davidson. Morgan was incensed and had to be led away from Davidson. He calmed down enough to finish the at-bat, but struck out.
After Morgan returned to the dugout, both Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and hitting coach Dale Sveum were ejected.
Milwaukee went on to load the bases in the inning on a single and two walks off Niemann, but Mark Kotsay struck out looking and Yuniesky Betancourt popped out to end the threat.
``The breaking ball he struck out Kotsay on a 3-2 was nasty,' Roenicke said. ``It's almost impossible to hit that pitch. You got that down angle, now you're throwing a breaking ball that starts from the same place, goes down. ... It really makes it tough.'
With Tampa Bay still clinging to that 1-0 lead in the seventh, Kelly Shoppach walked, advanced on a sacrifice and scored on pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano's double.
Brewers starter Chris Narveson (4-5) got the second out, but Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double and Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton each singled in runs to make it 5-0 as Tampa Bay batted around on its way to a fourth straight win.
``I felt like it was one of those games that was sailing along. Just kind of a pitchers' game and all of a sudden a lot of stuff, a lot of emotion came up in that bottom inning, and I wasn't able to carry that over in the top half of the seventh,' Narveson said. ``You get the two outs with a guy on second and things kind of fell apart.'
Niemann (2-4) had spent the last 45 days on the disabled list with a lower back strain, but looked comfortable while using his big curveball to neutralize the Brewers.
Braun was scratched 15 minutes before the start because of a respiratory infection.
Longoria connected against Mark DiFelice for his sixth homer, making it 8-1 in the eighth. The All-Star third baseman began the day in a 2-for-24 rut that dropped his June batting average to .196.
Lucroy hit a leadoff homer against J.P. Howell in the seventh and Prince Fielder drove in the final run of the game, hitting a two-out single in the ninth to run his total to 62 RBIs.
``It's always going to be a battle when you go out and play teams like this,' Lucroy said. ``Obviously, they handed it to us tonight but we'll come out tomorrow, compete hard again and hopefully get a win out of it.'
NOTES: Roenicke said Braun has been taking medicine and is expected to return on Tuesday night. ... Brewers RHP Shaun Marcum (hip) may miss his next start with lingering soreness. ... Brewers 3B Casey McGehee has an eight-game hitting streak. ... Kotsay is hitless in his last 14 at_bats.
The Associated Press News Service
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