MILWAUKEE (AP)—The Milwaukee Brewers played all season through a mix of sunlight, shadows and sellouts on their way to 57 regular-season wins at Miller Park. Now, they’re guaranteed to be back.
The Brewers won their first two home games in the best-of-five NL division series over Arizona in front of jam-packed crowds, including a 9-4 victory over the Diamondbacks on Sunday that pushes them to the cusp of their first postseason series win since 1982.
“It’s kind of an incredible feeling to have that kind of support,” Brewers right fielder Corey Hart(notes) said. “The other team feels that. They don’t want to be out there in that kind of atmosphere.”
Games 3 and 4, if necessary, are in Arizona beginning Tuesday after Milwaukee successfully protected home-field advantage.
The Brewers clinched their first division title in 29 years with nearly a week to play when they won the NL Central, but never rested because Arizona was just behind them in the NL standings and held the home-field tiebreaker.
It took until the final day of the season to ensure Milwaukee would start at home, and the first two wins in this series have vindicated that decision to go for it.
“We’re excited that we won the first two games, but we could just as easily come back home tied 2-2,” Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun(notes) said. “The goal was to advance in the postseason, and we haven’t accomplished that, so I don’t think we’re overly excited, but we feel good about the way we’ve played these first two games.
“It’s a short series. It’s important to find a way to win when you’re at home. We’re off to a good start.”
Lucroy—“Mr. Squeeze” to his teammates—drove in the go-ahead run with a bunt and Milwaukee broke away from Arizona with a five-run sixth inning.
“If there’s any team that’s been down before and come back, it’s us,” Diamondbacks shortstop Willie Bloomquist(notes) said. “We’re certainly not going to fold up our tents just yet. We’re going to come out fighting on Tuesday and come after them and see what happens.”
Lucroy keyed the five-run sixth and delivered right after Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler(notes) became angry about a balk call. That’s when rookie Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke put on a play—he’d already seen Lucroy successfully bunt a few times this season.
“Good teams always take advantage of the other team’s mistakes,” Braun said. “There’s no doubt coming into that inning, they had the momentum.”
With the score 4-all and runners at the corners with one out, Hairston took a couple of half-steps and sprinted home as Lucroy bunted toward first base. Ziegler’s awkward flip went wide of catcher Miguel Montero(notes) and the Diamondbacks imploded from there, with Milwaukee taking a 9-4 lead.
“It was crazy,” Montero said. “I didn’t even get a chance to second-guess myself. It was like, ‘OK, here we go—boom, boom, boom, boom.’ I’m like, ‘What’s going on over here?”’
Greinke went 11-0 this season at Miller Park, the retractable-roof stadium that opened in 2001 and has none of the charm of the throwback ballparks built during the same era.
Instead, it feels a little like a warehouse, and when the roof is closed, the noise reverberates off the soaring metal ceiling and the crowd feels almost on top of the field.
“If we come back (for Game 5), they’re going to be strong, if not stronger,” Hart said. “We love it because they’re on our side.”
Instead, Arizona went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and Milwaukee kept its cool until the sixth, when seven consecutive batters reached with one out.
Ziegler entered, and was called for a balk when he spun and found no one behind Hairston for a pickoff attempt as he attempted to throw. Ziegler pointed down at his foot, upset at second base umpire Bruce Dreckman’s call, and walked the free-swinging Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) on four pitches.
Ziegler said he was “somewhat curious” about what happened because he believed his footwork was proper.
“I honestly don’t know what he called. I didn’t ask him about it,” said Ziegler, who didn’t want to be ejected for arguing. “I didn’t feel like I balked. I felt my (front) foot came down on top of the rubber, so I felt I was clear of my back foot at that point. It didn’t matter after that.”
Roenicke called for the squeeze, and Lucroy laid it down perfectly, just like he had on a suicide attempt on the final play of a 3-2 win against the Giants on May 28.
The play started Milwaukee’s big inning, and Arizona finds itself in a bigger hole.
“When you go on the road, you want to at least take one. If you don’t, you’ve got to go home and defend your own turf,” Upton said. “That’s the bottom line. That’s what home-field advantage does for them. They played well at their home place, got two wins, but we’ve got to do the same thing.”