Brewers’ Game 1 explosion came out of nowhere
MILWAUKEE – There is no Emergency Broadcast System for baseball. Danger lurks behind every pitch, and as much as clairvoyance on such matters is part of a manager’s job, even the most astute planner cannot always foresee the misfortune primed to descend.
What hit the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday evening came with fury and landed with disregard. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Twenty-two pitches, it took the Milwaukee Brewers. Twenty-two over six batters, who singled, doubled, doubled, homered, reached on an error and homered. From start to finish, the deluge lasted 14 minutes, including a pitching change, turned a three-run deficit into a three-run lead and sparked the Brewers to a 9-6 victory in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.
Actually, it is.
The idea that the Brewers’ offense destroys anything that dare come in its path is something of a fallacy rooted in the potency of its Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, Ryan Braun(notes) and Prince Fielder(notes), who were indeed part of the six-run fifth. Yes, Braun and Fielder have mashed all season. No, surrounding hitters have not run concurrently with them, which made Game 1 all the more impressive – and unlikely.
During the regular season, Milwaukee scored five or more runs in an inning just nine times. That ranked second-to-last in the major leagues, tied with three others and ahead only of San Diego, which had eight five-plus-run innings. The Brewers’ offense played more than 1,400 innings this season, and it ended with at least five runs 0.6 percent of the time, significantly less than the 0.92 percent average.
The playoff Brewers, on the other hand, now have scored five or more twice in just 52 innings, a nearly four-percent frequency. The swiftness with which the Brewers dispatched their offense in the fifth inning fulfilled what they believe about themselves: They are a team eminently capable of stringing together monster innings.
“We’ve had the ability to do that all year,” Braun said. “I think we’ve had kind of an explosive offense.”
St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia(notes) set the fuse, lit it and watched it go kablooey. Following a two-run home run in the first-inning by Braun, Garcia had cruised through three innings on the back of his sinker. Corey Hart(notes) led off the fifth with a seeing-eye single, and on the fifth pitch of the next at-bat, Jerry Hairston yanked a double into the left-field corner to put two runners on before Braun stepped to the plate.
At that point, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, the aforementioned planner, had reliever Octavio Dotel(notes) warmed in the bullpen. In eight at-bats against Braun and Fielder, he had struck them out six times apiece. La Russa chose to stick with Garcia, whose excellence in innings two through four imbued his manager with misplaced trust.
Because on the pitch after Hairston’s double, Braun shot his own down the right-field line to close the gap to 5-4. And on the pitch after that, Garcia fed Fielder a belt-high, plate-bisecting slider, which left the bat harder than any ball has this year, according to HitTracker, and landed over the right-field fence as the 43,614 in attendance turned the stadium into a frenzied mess.
Hairston, wary of dehydration after cramping up during the Brewers’ Game 5 victory in the NL Division Series, had run up the dugout tunnel to grab a Gatorade. He hadn’t even cracked it when the stadium’s cacophony told him something had gone well.
“That’s as quick as it gets,” Hairston said. “Hey, listen. When you’ve got guys like Braun and Prince, you can strike at any time.”
It didn’t end there. Dotel replaced Garcia, fielded a tapper from Weeks and bounced a throw past first baseman Albert Pujols(notes) for an error. Up stepped Yuniesky Betancourt(notes), the Brewers’ shortstop whose subpar defense and hacktastic plate discipline lead to plenty of malign and overshadow the one thing he can do rather well: hit a baseball very hard.
Not as hard as Fielder, of course, but plenty hard to spoil pitch after Dotel pitch – slider, cutter, cutter, cutter – before the 37-year-old right-hander left a slider high in the strike zone and Betancourt deposited it into the Brewers’ bullpen. If Fielder’s home run felt like the most epic moment at the rock concert Brewers games have become, Betancourt’s was the encore, a delectable moment for true Brewers devotees who have suffered through enough bad strikeouts and misplayed ground balls that they deserved a big home run.
“I don’t really understand English very well, so, that being said, I don’t really pay attention to what the critics say,” said Betancourt, a Cuban emigree. “Since I don’t understand, I don’t get mad, I just try and do my job.”
All of the Brewers did Sunday, some better than others. Starter Zack Greinke(notes), behind whom the Brewers still haven’t dropped a game in 17 starts at Miller Park, looked headed for his first loss after David Freese(notes) belted a three-run home run in the fourth inning to give St. Louis a 4-2 lead. Greinke allowed one run over the next two innings. His teammates dropped six.
“We know when Zack goes out we’re going to win here,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “But I really don’t think you can explain it.”
Nor can anyone explain how offenses from Houston, Pittsburgh and even the two worst in baseball, San Francisco and Seattle, could have more five-plus-run innings during the regular season than the Brewers. They were 11th in baseball and fifth in the NL with 721 runs, and more than 64 percent of those runs came in one- or two-run innings. Perhaps they were saving the big ones up for when it matters most, the stage of October, of postseason baseball, of a choice between fame or infamy.
Fielder’s home run will be famous in this region forever, the culmination of the craziest quarter-hour in a crazy season. And yet when asked whether it was the biggest home run of his career, Fielder wasn’t content with just answering yes.
“So far,” he said.
That’s how these Brewers think. They didn’t have big innings during the regular season? So what? It felt like they did. And as long as they feel it, as long as they believe that’s who they are, they’re convinced it will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So far, they’ve had a great October. And they’re pretty sure it’s just starting – with a bang.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
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