Ryan Braun living on easy street
Brewers slugger unfazed by playoff pressure, keeps hitting as Brewers build 2-0 lead
MILWAUKEE -- Some 40 minutes after the biggest back-to-back days in his short postseason history, Milwaukee slugger Ryan Braun confidently pulled up a chair in a packed postgame interview room and held court.
With teammate Corey Hart to his left, Braun, 27, began his discussion about Sunday's 9-4 Brewers victory by teasing a local reporter about his hat and tie.
"Nice hat, nice tie," Braun said. "It's a good look for you."
Everyone laughed, the two Brewers included. Nerves? What nerves? After a regular season that saw Braun put up numbers that have him knee-deep in the National League MVP talk, one of Milwaukee's biggest stars has done nothing but thrive so far under the postseason spotlight.
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Braun backed up Saturday's 3-for-4 performance with another 3-for-4 showing on Sunday that included a two-run homer to center in the first inning, a double in the third and an RBI-scoring single in the sixth. He fell a triple short of the cycle. And now, in part because of his bat, Milwaukee is one game from winning its first postseason series in 29 years.
"He doesn't stop," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said.
For Roenicke, it's the same thing he's watched all year. Braun was the first Brewer to put together a 30-30 season and finished in the top four in the National League in several offensive categories, including slugging percentage, extra-base hits, batting average, total bases, runs, RBIs and doubles. Los Angeles' Matt Kemp and Cincinnati's Joey Votto were the only other NL players to score 100 runs and knock in 100.
But the postseason is supposed to separate the men from the boys. It's where big-swinging stars get exposed. The scouting reports dig deeper. No flaw can be hidden. In four postseason games in 2008 against Philadelphia, Braun hit .318 but had just two RBIs and no home runs.
This time around, he's smacking the ball around as though he's hitting off a tee. His 11 total bases are more than the top two Diamondbacks combined.
"I feel good," Braun said. "I'm seeing the ball well, I think."
Before the series, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said that the biggest key to his team's NLDS success might be slowing Braun and teammate Prince Fielder. It was the proverbial "you can't let those guys beat you." Well, they just did. Twice. In two games, Fielder and Braun have combined to hit .562 with two home runs and six RBIs.
"They're good hitters," Gibson said. "There's not much room for error when they're swinging the bat the way they are right now."
On Sunday, Braun provided the bookends for the Brewers' offense. With Hart on base in the first, he crushed an 86 mph changeup from Daniel Hudson onto the concourse under the center-field scoreboard at Miller Park to give Milwaukee a 2-0 lead. It was the first first-inning playoff home run in Brewers history.
Then in the sixth, after the Diamondbacks tied the game at 4-4, Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler crumbled and Braun delivered the third of three straight singles, scoring Hart and giving Milwaukee the 9-4 lead it wouldn't lose.
In the win, Braun became just the second Brewer with three hits and three RBIs in a postseason game, joining Mark Brouhard, who did it in the 1982 ALCS.
"He's a big reason why we're up 2-0," Hart said. "He likes the big situation, and we like to give it to him."
After the game, Braun said all the right things. He talked about perspective, how the Brewers haven't accomplished anything yet and can't get ahead of themselves. He mentioned how he expects a fight from the Diamondbacks in Arizona. And that the series is far from over. But perhaps of greatest interest to Milwaukee fans and concern to Arizona backers is that he refused to use the word "hot" to describe how he's feeling at the plate. Maybe that's because hot for Braun might be better described as ordinary.
"His normal is better than most people when they're hot," Milwaukee pitcher Zack Greinke said.
Speaking of Greinke, before Sunday's 8&189;-minute session with reporters was finished, Braun couldn't resist one last sound bite for the road. When a reporter asked Braun and Hart about Greinke's halfhearted attempt to make the "beast mode" gesture the Brewers have adopted each time a player gets on base, the slugger pounced.
"I don't think there's much that Zack does that's smooth or cool," Braun said to a room full of laughter. "We give him a pass for being awkward because he lives his life awkwardly. We'll have to watch the replay and work with him or something."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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