It was the biggest game of the year for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Well, at this point, they are all kind of “the biggest game of the year,” especially this series against the Chicago Cubs. And it is in these monumental moments that you hope to see your stars shine the brightest.
Things started with Gio Gonzalez, who was nails for the first four innings of the ballgame, allowing only one hit and three walks. He bent a bit in the fifth inning when Addison Russell started the scoring with a solo home run, but that would be the only damage against Milwaukee’s veteran southpaw. He threw 75 pitches in five complete frames on the way to lowering his ERA to 3.98.
Yu Darvish toed the mound for the Northside Nine and did even better than Gio, yielding only three harmless singles and a walk. He whiffed seven hitters, but like Gonzalez, was taken out after five innings. He threw 72 pitches before Joe Maddon fired up his carousel of relievers. First out of the chute was lefty Kyle Ryan, who recorded two outs before issuing a walk to Christian Yelich. With Eric Thames at the plate, Yelich swiped second base before the hulking first baseman drew a free pass of his own. After a mound visit, Ryan threw a first-pitch fastball to Ben Gamel over the middle at the knees that Benji was able to poke through to right field for an RBI single to knot the game up at one. That’d be all for Ryan, who gave way to Steve Cishek. The side-winding righty then retired Lorenzo Cain to end the frame.
Freddy Peralta threw two innings of dynamite relief after Gonzalez in the sixth and seventh, allowing one hit and zero runs while striking five and touching 99 MPH on the radar gun. Then in the eighth with the score still tied up at one, Craig Counsell called upon Junior Guerra to start the inning. His effort was not heroic, as he walked the first batter Victor Caratini on six pitches before Ben Zobrist poked a single through the right side of the infield to put runners on the corners with no outs. Guerra got the hook, but instead of the obvious choice, CC gave Drew Pomeranz a chance to clean up the mess first. Instead he only compounded matters, walking Ian Happ on six pitches to load the bases with no men out.
If ever there was a time for Josh Hader, it was this one, and he entered the game to face Nicholas Castellanos.
Hader went 97, 80, 97 on three straight pitches to punch out the Cubs’ outfielder. The next batter, Anthony Rizzo, improved upon that and saw five pitches in his plate appearance. Unfortunately four of them were deemed outside of the strike zone by the umpire, and Rizzo was granted a base on balls. That was the first bases loaded walk that Hader had issued in his career, and it forced the go-ahead run home to make the score 2-1. The bases were still loaded and Kris Bryant stepped to the plate, and he popped up the second pitch of his at-bat to third base and was out on the infield fly rule. Then came David Bote, who got ahead of Hader 2-0. But Josh came back with three straight fastballs, including a 97 MPH pitch at the knees that caught Bote looking for strike three. Inning over, and Hader was able to navigate through the bases-loaded jam by letting in only the one run.
Chicago’s lead lasted all of one pitch in the bottom half of the eighth. David Phelps entered the game to face Yasmani Grandal, and the backstop sent him to the showers after this 80 MPH curveball:
It was Grandal’s 25th home run of the season and his 22nd as a catcher, breaking the franchise mark for backstops previously held by Dave Nilsson. And, more importantly, it tied this ballgame at two runs apiece. Derek Holland replaced Phelps and walked Yelich on four pitches, and was then removed from the game in favor of Rowan Wick. Eric Thames flew out to deep center field, and then with Gamel at the plate, Yelich took off and swiped second for his 30th steal of the year. That made him just the second player in franchise history to accomplish a 40 home run, 30 steal season after Ryan Braun did it in 2012. Braunie was also the last player in MLB to accomplish the feat, so Yelich becomes the first player in seven years to hit those benchmarks in a single season. Gamel wound up walking after an incredible 11 pitch battle with Wick, putting runners on first and second with one down. Hernan Perez then pinch-hit and struck out on three pitches before Corey Spangenberg legged out an infield single to load the bases with two outs. Orlando Arcia couldn’t deliver, flying out to right to end the inning.
Hader stayed in the game for the top of the ninth, striking out Kyle Schwarber and Jonathan Lucroy and getting a pop-up from Russell. Brandon Kintzler came on for the Cubs in the bottom of the ninth, which got started off by Russell making a wild throw from shortstop on a ground ball by Tyler Austin. The error allowed Austin to reach first base, where he still stood after outs by Trent Grisham and Grandal. With two outs and the game tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Yelich strolled to the plate to face Kintzler. One might have thought that perhaps manager Cubs Joe Maddon would call for an intentional walk of the reigning MVP from the dugout, but he elected to have Kintzler pitch to Milwaukee’s best player.
It was a poor choice.
Christian Yelich dejó en el campo a los Cubs, conectó doble impulsor en la novena para el triunfo 3-2 de Milwaukee, que sigue soñando con la postemporada. ⚾#MLB #ThisIsMyCrew #Cubs pic.twitter.com/Vm28iMiXXX— ESPN Deportes (@ESPNDeportes) September 8, 2019
Counsell called it “the best game I’ve ever seen Christian have.” According to Maddon, “[I]t’s like a Bonds moment for me...He’s not missing his pitch. And not only that -- when it matters.” Gio Gonzalez may have summed it up best — “It’s the Christian Yelich show. Keep it coming.”
With the needed victory, the Cream City Nine get back to five games over .500 at 73-68. They’ve reduced their Wild Card deficit to three games behind the Cubs, who are now 76-65. Sunday’s series finale will be a new “biggest game of the year” for the Brewers, who will send Adrian Houser to the mound as they desperately try to keep their playoff hopes alive. Facing Houser will be Jon Lester, who was pushed up to make this start. First pitch at Miller Park is scheduled for 1:10 PM central.