Sometimes, the hero of the day is predictable. Yesterday it was Christian Yelich, the National League’s reigning Most Valuable Player, someone who is easily among the top-5 best playing the game. But when a team is chasing a postseason berth and playing from behind the Milwaukee Brewers are, contributions from unlikely sources can often be the extra push that is needed when the season is on the line. Sometimes, you need the hero to be the guy you signed to a minor league contract less than a month ago, the journeyman September call-up who is already playing for his third MLB franchise of 2019.
Adrian Houser started things off on the mound today for the Menomonee Valley Nine and he looked terrific for his first two innings, carving through the lineup of the Chicago Cubs with relative ease; he struck out a pair and induced three ground balls while going 1-2-3 each time. He was staked to an early lead in the bottom of the first after the offense loaded the bases with zero outs against veteran left-hander Jon Lester. Ryan Braun managed to push the game’s first run across as cleanup hitter; but he did so by grounding into a double play.
It was 1-0 when the third inning started and Addison Russell strolled to the plate. Houser lost the handle on his 1-2 pitch, leaving a 94 MPH fastball high and inside that hit Russell in the head. He went down to the ground and received a lengthy examination from the medical staff, but it was determined that he was fit to stay in the game. Russell was fortunate to avoid significant injury, but the plunking clearly rattled Houser. Russell stole second base and the next batter David Bote lined a single to right. Russell would have held up at third, but a bobble by Yelich and then a rushed, wild throw allowed him to come home and tie the game. The pitcher Lester then hit a double down the line to score Bote and make it 2-1. After a mound visit, Adrian grooved a first-pitch changeup to Ben Zobrist, who smacked an RBI double of his own to make it 3-1 with still zero outs. Houser would also throw a wild pitch in the inning, allowing Zobrist to move to third, but he was stranded there after a pair of strikeouts and a lineout.
Houser stranded another two runners in the top of the fourth inning before the offense mounted their big charge for the day. Yelich led off with a single, and he motored around to score on a double by Braun to make it 3-2. After an Eric Thames punchout, Hernan Perez roped a single to right field that scored Braunie and tied the game at three. Cory Spangenberg hit a fielder’s choice grounder for the second out, then David Freitas — pinch-hitting for Mike Moustakas, who still cannot comfortably grip the bat — walked to put runners on first on second. Houser had only thrown 67 pitches but Craig Counsell elected to push the pinch-hit button and sent Tyler Austin to the plate.
Austin, who joined the organization on August 16th after getting released by the Giants and had accrued all of seven plate appearances as a bench player on the expanded roster, seized this moment — in a virtual must-win scenario with a two-game swing against the team they’re chasing in the standings on the line — as his opportunity to make his mark on the franchise.
With a 6-3 advantage, Counsell handed the ball off to Brent Suter, who delivered two scoreless frames to lower his ERA to 1.42 in his return from Tommy John surgery. Milwaukee added two runs in the bottom of the sixth, which wound up being pretty important later Badger Mutual Insurance Runs later on in the game. First, Thames cranked his 21st dinger of the year, a moonshot off the batter’s eye off of Lester. Spangenberg followed with a triple, and then Tyrone Taylor recorded his first MLB hit off reliever Duane Underwood to score him and push the lead to 8-3.
Jay Jackson and Drew Pomeranz combined to throw a scoreless seventh, and Alex Claudio recorded a three-up, three-down eighth. Jimmy Nelson was summoned to close out the five-run lead, but his struggles with retiring big league hitters haven’t yet abated. He walked Willson Contreras to lead off the inning and then served up a two-run long ball to Jason Heyward, pitching the game into a save situation at 8-5. Nelson struck out Ian Happ for the first out but then gave up a first-pitch base hit to Victor Caratini, which prompted Counsell to race out of the dugout and replace the beleaguered right-hander with his Closer. This marked the first time that Josh Hader had pitched the day after throwing multiple innings this season; he used 28 pitches during the final two frames of yesterday’s victory. But this crucial situation called for the team’s best pitcher, and he fired 10 pitches — nine fastballs between 95-97 MPH and one 81 MPH slider — while striking out Robel Garcia and then Zobrist to secure the victory and record his 29th save of the season.
Counsell stated that his squad needed to win the remaining seven-game series against the Northside Nine back at the end of August, and the Brewers did just that, taking two of three at Wrigley Field before getting three out of four at Miller Park this weekend. Milwaukee pushed their record to 74-68 and now sit a mere 2.0 games back of Chicago for the second Wild Card spot. Next up is a four-game set against the lowly Marlins in Miami, a team that has already been eliminated from playoff contention. Jordan Lyles toes the slab and puts his 2.56 ERA in seven Brew Crew starts on the line. He’ll face off against Robert Duggar, who has pitched in three games and totaled 18.0 innings with a 4.00 ERA in the big leagues since debuting on August 5th.