Frantic finish: Brewers win thriller
October, 7, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Wait ... we still have two rounds of postseason baseball to go?
The Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers gave us a game to remember Friday, the first extra-inning, sudden-death game in the playoffs since Aaron Boone's home run won the 2003 American League Championship Series for the Yankees. This time, the winning hit came from the hyperactive Nyjer Morgan, a single up the middle off J.J. Putz that easily scored the speedy Carlos Gomez, giving the Brewers a 3-2 win in 10 innings and setting off Miller Park into a cacophony of cheers, noise, delirium and general playoff fever.
"That's all I got," the man also known as "T-Plush" yelled into the microphone during the postgame interview, too caught up in the moment to do anything but pump his arms, hop around the field and scream a few four-letter words.
Thankfully, that's not all we'll get. We get these brash Brewers and maybe the best home environment in baseball for another round. We get more of Ryan Braun's sweet swing, Prince Fielder's power and Yovani Gallardo's curveball. It wasn't easy, not after Francisco Rodriguez made Brewers fans drip with sweat and nerves by loading the bases in the eighth, and not after John Axford saw his string of 44 consecutive save chances converted end by giving up a run in the ninth on Willie Bloomquist's perfect safety squeeze bunt. But a win is all that matters, whether it comes in the ninth or the 10th.
Hey, there's nothing wrong with a little added excitement, is there?
The Brewers play in the smallest market in the major leagues. There was a time, not so long ago, when baseball in Milwaukee was bleeding nothing but bad news. The team suffered 12 consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2004. Even after moving into Miller Park, the franchise hit rock bottom in its second season there in 2002, losing 106 games. Two years later, general manager Doug Melvin -- who had been hired in September 2002 -- had stripped the team bare, with a payroll of $27.6 million, lowest in the majors that season.
The Brewers were starting over. And now, seven years later, they can see the finish line. They're four wins from reaching the second World Series in franchise history, eight wins from winning it for the first time.
I don't like to say the Brewers did it the right way, but ... they do it the way we like to see. Braun, Fielder and Rickie Weeks were first-round picks. Gallardo was a second-round pick. Corey Hart and Jonathan Lucroy were draft picks. Axford was signed after being released by the Yankees. Chris Narveson was signed as a minor league free agent. The only big-name free-agent signing was Randy Wolf. To that core, Melvin traded for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum this offseason. He signed underrated middle reliever Takashi Saito, a guy with a career 2.18 ERA. Late in spring training, he acquired Morgan from the Nationals in what seemed like a minor transaction for a fourth outfielder. Finally, in July he added more bullpen depth with the acquisition of Rodriguez.
K-Rod nearly blew the game in the eighth, trying to protect a 2-1 lead. With runners on first and third, he faced rookie first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who can hit the ball 450 but also was one of the easiest hitters in the majors to strike out with 53 whiffs in 156 at-bats. Goldschmidt fanned on a 2-2 curve. After Chris Young walked to load the bases, Rodriguez got ahead of Ryan Roberts with two strikes and induced him to ground weakly to shortstop.
Axford came on in the ninth, with his string of closing out games. He hadn't blown a lead since April 18. Sure enough, Gerardo Parra doubled and Sean Burroughs blooped a single to left. The TV cameras showed Brewers manager Ron Roenicke motioning to his team to be aware of the bunt. Bloomquist bunted the first pitch, Fielder stumbled and collided with Axford, and everybody was safe. Suddenly, the Brewers were in danger of not just blowing the lead but losing the game.
Kirk Gibson elected to let Aaron Hill hit away instead of bunt, maybe the one major questionable move of the game. But bunting Axford's 97 mph heat isn't easy, and maybe Gibson didn't want the Brewers to take the bat out of Justin Upton's hands. The decision backfired as Hill struck out, Upton struck out and Henry Blanco (in the game because Miguel Montero had been run for the previous inning) grounded out.
I hate to see the Diamondbacks go. They kept confounding the so-called experts and doubters all season. I have a feeling they'll be back for more October baseball in the future.
For the Brewers, the future is now. They survived a tough series. More October baseball? Bring it on.