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Sunday, October 9, 2011
Murderers' row: Braun, Fielder, Betancourt

By David Schoenfield

Yuniesky Betancourt
Yuniesky Betancourt got into the act with a two-run shot during the Brewers' big fifth inning.

Something just doesn't seem right when you see Yuniesky Betancourt going into beast mode.

You expect it from Ryan Braun, and he's as hot as any postseason hitter we've seen in a long time. He added two more extra-base hits and four RBIs on Sunday.

You expect it from Prince Fielder, who delivered a missile of a home run that rocketed off the wall behind the bullpen in right-center, a two-run blast that gave the Brewers a 6-5 lead in the fifth inning.

But when Betancourt is doing serious damage, you know things are going the Brewers' way. And there he was, blasting a two-run homer to cap off Milwaukee's six-run fifth, then doubling and scoring for the team's final run in a 9-6 Game 1 victory over the Cardinals.

Betancourt, of course, has been one of the most-maligned players in the major leagues in recent years. He's a free swinger with a ghastly on-base percentage of .277 over the past three seasons. His range at shortstop has been compared to such inanimate objects as fire hydrants and tree stumps. When the Brewers acquired Zack Greinke in the offseason, it came with the caveat, "Yes, but they had to take Yuniesky Betancourt in the trade."

No, Betancourt is not an All-Star. But the defensive metrics suggest he played a little better in the field this season, and although he still swings at everything, he has a little pop for a shortstop, with 13 home runs and 43 extra-base hits. Make a mistake, and once in a while, he'll do some damage.

It usually doesn't happen with two strikes, however. In 2011, when falling behind in the count 0-and-2, Betancourt hit .170 with two home runs in 94 at-bats. With two strikes on him, he hit .157 with three home runs in 198 at-bats. Because of his inability to lay off pitches outside the strike zone, he's an easy out with two strikes.

But not every time.

After Braun's two-run double and Fielder's home run off Jaime Garcia knocked Garcia from the game, Rickie Weeks reached on Octavio Dotel's throwing error. Dotel got two strikes on Betancourt, who took a ball, then fouled off four pitches. Good at-bat, as they say. Then Dotel hung a curveball, and Betancourt lashed it over the fence in left-center. Great at-bat. In the postgame news conference, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke called it one of Betancourt's best at-bats of the season.

In the seventh, Betancourt again fell behind two strikes, this time to Kyle McClellan, who couldn't put him away, either. Betancourt fouled off two pitches, worked the count to 3-2, then lashed a fastball down the left-field line for a double.

Yuniesky Betancourt working the count? Yes, it must be the postseason.

* * * *

Quick thoughts:

1. Braun went with 2-for-4 with a mammoth, 444-foot, two-run homer in the first and a two-run ground-rule double into the right-field corner in the fifth. I don't know how you get him out right now. In the postseason, he's 11-for-22 with five doubles, two home runs and four walks. When he came up against Garcia with runners on second and third in the fifth and the Cardinals leading 5-2, there were some calls to put him on base and have Garcia pitch to Fielder. But you can't put the tying on base there, and it's too early to start matching up hitters, so I don't fault Tony La Russa for having the lefty Garcia pitch to Braun. The play also highlighted one of the Cardinals' major weaknesses, Lance Berkman's range in the outfield. A swifter outfielder might have run down Braun's drive.

2. Braun's homer was the first Garcia had allowed in the first inning this season -- and the first he'd allowed since his first major league start in 2008.

3. The Brewers' home-field advantage is certainly starting to resemble that of the 1987 and 1991 Minnesota Twins, who won two World Series while playing in the deafening Metrodome. Those two years, the Twins went 11-1 at home in the playoffs, including 8-0 in the World Series, and 5-7 on the road.

4. Losing Skip Schumacher's lefty bat for the series is a minor blow to the Cardinals, with the Brewers' righty-heavy rotation and bullpen. Ryan Theriot played second and went 0-for-4. He's a .310 hitter this season versus left-handers but .256 against right-handers.

5. The Brewers are now 17-0 at home in games started by Greinke, although he had his second consecutive mediocre outing with eight hits and six runs allowed over six-plus innings. As John Smoltz and Ron Darling mentioned on the TBS telecast, it seemed he was throwing too many slow curveballs early in the count rather than using that as a two-strike sit-'em-down pitch. David Freese's three-run homer in the fourth was off a first-pitch curveball, and Berkman's RBI single in the fifth also came off a first-pitch curve. Greinke became the first pitcher in postseason history to pitch at least six innings with an ERA of at least 9.00 and still win the game.

6. The Cardinals will be happy getting a split in Milwaukee and going home with the series tied and Chris Carpenter ready for Game 3. That puts the pressure on Game 2 starter Edwin Jackson. All he has to do is figure out a way to pitch to Braun, Fielder ... and Betancourt.