As boos welcome Craig Counsell back to Milwaukee, Chicago Cubs bats remain quiet in a 5-1 loss

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee Brewers fans did not hold back their feelings for former manager-turned-rival skipper Craig Counsell.

Counsell, meanwhile, grinned in the visitors dugout as a cacophony of boos echoed within American Family Field. The Chicago Cubs manager took a big-picture perspective when asked before Monday’s game what type of fan reaction he expected to receive.

“Look, I mean, cheer, boo, whatever, man,” Counsell said. “Just have a good time at the game. That’s what fans get to do, so just have a good time.

“It’s not my job to tell people how to feel about something or even to figure it out. Like, let people feel how they want to feel and I’m good with that. And it doesn’t have to be all positive. We’re in a public job and we’re in a job with fans, and fans are allowed to feel however they want to feel.”

Any cheers for Counsell in his first game back in Milwaukee were drowned out by the Brewers faction among the 41,882 fans at the ballpark. The two loudest moments of dissent occurred during a brief pregame thank-you video and two minutes later when he was announced as Cubs manager after starting lineup introductions.

Counsell didn’t escape the jeers, either, when he stepped on the field in the eighth inning to make a pitching change.

The Cubs couldn’t deliver Counsell the win in a 5-1 loss that again featured quiet bats while wasting left-hander Justin Steele’s seven shutout innings. They managed only five hits, all singles, and were on the verge of their fourth shutout in 13 games when Patrick Wisdom connected for a sacrifice fly in the ninth.

The Cubs dropped to .500 with 10 losses in their last 13, including five straight, as the offense’s futility continues to leave little margin for error.

The Brewers’ five-run eighth served as the decisive blow.

“When you’re in this low run-scoring environment that it’s been on the offensive side for a couple of weeks now, that’s how it works,” Counsell said. “Your mistakes are going to hurt you bad. It’s easy to point to the eighth inning, but we had zero runs to the eighth inning, too, so we all bear responsibility for that.”

The Brewers put the first two runners on to open the eighth against reliever Mark Leiter Jr., and third baseman Nick Madrigal’s fielding error allowed the Brewers to grab a 1-0 lead. Two batters later, Willy Adames’ three-run homer on a 3-0 sinker from Hayden Wesneski made the advantage feel insurmountable given the Cubs’ offensive woes this month.

“Definitely frustrating in that moment, a play I have to make,” Madrigal said. “This one’s on me today for sure.

“We still believe in every single guy on this team, on the bench, in the lineup. We’ve got a long season. We can’t hold our heads down for too long. It’s a big series. Tomorrow’s going to be a big game for us and I have full confidence we’re going to bounce back.”

Counsell has remained level-headed through a tough stretch that coincides with the Whitefish Bay, Wis., native returning to where he established his post-playing career.

He admitted some of the initial reaction from Brewers fans bothered him after the Cubs hired him in November. Clearly a good number of Monday’s crowd remains unhappy with the team’s former manager departing for a division rival. The fans made sure to show love for Brewers manager Pat Murphy — Counsell’s former bench coach — when his name was announced pregame.

Counsell, 53, spent nearly two decades in Milwaukee between his playing career (2004, 2007-11), working as a special assistant to general manager Doug Melvin (2012-15) and managing the Brewers (2015-23).

In the months since switching uniforms, Counsell has made clear he isn’t very sentimental. Instead, he hoped to reconnect with people in the Brewers organization this week and cherish the human element to the business.

Looking back, there wasn’t a singular moment over the last few years when Counsell knew he wouldn’t be with the Brewers for the rest of his career, though he acknowledged former team President David Stearns’ departure made him think a lot about moving on.

“Life takes different turns, man, like, I don’t want to plan out my life forever,” Counsell said. “I want to do things that challenge me, that excite me, so I don’t make plans like that.

“You’ve got to take the ride of life and see what happens. This was not something I necessarily expected to happen, but you’ve got to jump on the ride and go.”

Counsell’s first two months in Chicago certainly have provided a challenge as the Cubs look to avoid another May-into-June swoon that forces them to dig out of another hole in the standings.