DENVER -- For the growing camp who believes the remainder of the Brewers' season will be measured not wins and losses but by fight, there was reason for optimism on Sunday.
The Brewers lost a Coors Field special to the Rockies, 6-5, that included six mostly altitude-aided home runs (Troy Tulowitzki's first-inning blast was the exception). But the way they lost, playing clean defense and staging a late-inning comeback that went for naught, offered manager Ron Roenicke a sliver of solace.
"It's tough when you play well and you lose, but for us to come back and go ahead, guys are still playing hard, they're still playing confident," Roenicke said. "We think we can win."
That mindset was the subject of a team meeting on Friday that included remarks by Roenicke and right-hander Kyle Lohse, who urged fight in the face of the Brewers' significant losses, injury and otherwise, the latest being Ryan Braun's season-ending suspension. For weeks now, the team has played without the three sluggers slated before the season to fill the heart of the batting order.
Yet Milwaukee managed 15 runs in the three-game series after scoring eight times in Thursday's loss to the Padres. On Sunday, Norichika Aoki hit his 100th home run between the Japanese and U.S. Major Leagues as the Brewers overcame a first-inning deficit to take a 3-1 lead, and Yuniesky Betancourt belted a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning.
Four of the Brewers' five runs scored with two outs, including the two on Betancourt's 11th home run.
"We're heading in the right direction," Aoki said through translator Kosuke Inaji. "But having said that, we still wanted to win. Everyone is playing to win."
The Rockies overcame deficits of 3-1 and 5-4 to take the series in the rubber match.
A potent offense in Colorado's home park was too much for the Brewers. Each of the top four batters in Rockies' order went deep: Tulowitzki in the first inning and Corey Dickerson and Michael Cuddyer in the sixth against Brewers starter Donovan Hand, and Dexter Fowler in the seventh against reliever Michael Gonzalez to snap a 3-3 tie.
Betancourt answered with a two-strike, two-out, two-run homer in the eighth, but the Rockies answered back, this time by manufacturing two runs against Milwaukee's John Axford.
Tulowitzki led off by staying back enough on a full-count slider to pull a double just inside third base, and scored the tying run when Cuddyer punched a double over first. Cuddyer then scored the winning run when Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado hit a jam-shot single into center field.
Roenicke went out to ask first-base umpire Angel Hernandez whether the Cuddyer hit indeed stayed fair, and Hernandez pointed to proof.
"He showed me the spot it hit, and it looked like it was well inside the line," Roenicke said.
"I don't think Cuddy thought he hit it fair, because he stayed in the box at first," Axford said. "It shot right down the line, perfectly placed."
Axford was happy to see the Brewers play their final game of the season against the Rockies. He has a 21.00 ERA in four appearances against Colorado (seven earned runs, 10 hits, four home runs in three innings) and a 2.63 ERA in 47 games against everybody else.
"The worst pitch I threw [Sunday] was the only out I got," said Axford, who was charged with two runs on three hits in his fourth loss. "I felt I placed those other pitches really well, and the results just didn't work out for me."
The same went for Gonzalez, who inherited a 3-3 tie an inning earlier and thought he'd worked a 1-2-3 frame when Fowler hit a fly ball to right field.
It carried, carried, and carried some more, over Aoki's head and into the Rockies' bullpen.
"The balls take a long time to come down here," Aoki said. "I thought I had a chance, but the ball just kept carrying."
When he kept the Rockies in the park, Hand was excellent, pitching on schedule after he was struck -- naturally -- on the hand during an at-bat at Miller Park in an outing against the Padres last week. In six innings, he allowed three Rockies runs on eight hits, with no walks and two strikeouts.
A reliever who was thrust into starting duty for the injury-plagued Brewers, Hand's six-inning outing was his longest since 2009, when he was a starter in Double-A.
"Really, three pitches today defined my outing," Hand said. "Three out of 79 [pitches] shouldn't do that for me, because the other 76 were pretty good. But I got to go six [innings], so hopefully we can build on that next time."
Aoki connected against Rockies starter Jhoulys Chacin in the third inning on a fly ball that carried through the thin air and just cleared the fence. It was Aoki's sixth home run this season and his 16th as a Brewer after hitting 84 home runs from 2005-11 for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the Japanese Central League. Brewers bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel presented Aoki with his 100th home run ball after the game.
"I didn't know until my translator told me," Aoki said. "The team lost today, so I'm not really happy about that. Even though I hit a home run today, I thought I could have done more to help the team win."
The next stop is Chicago, where the last-place Brewers (43-61) will try to climb closer to the 48-55 Cubs.
"They still got talent," Colorado's Cuddyer said. "They've got a good lineup over there, there's no question about that. And they've got guys that are legit All-Stars with [Carlos] Gomez and [Jean] Segura, and [Jonathan] Lucroy's having a heck of a season, too. So they've got talent over there, there's no question about that."