Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Best Postseason Win: Milwaukee Brewers

There have been two genuinely good Brewers teams in the history of the franchise - Harvey's Wallbangers in the early '80s, and the NL Central contenders of roughly 2007-12. The Wallbangers were clearly better; their six consecutive winning seasons from 1978-83 are easily the franchise's high-water mark, and they won the only pennant in team history. They are also likely to be more fondly remembered. Their two best players were Robin Yount, who spent hist entire Hall of Fame career with the Brewers, and Paul Molitor, who stuck with Milwaukee for all but the end of his career as well. Molitor struggled with drug use early in his career, but cocaine has to this point not been considered nearly as serious an offense in baseball circles as steroids, which got current Brewer star Ryan Braun suspended for half a season. Meanwhile, the recent squad's other signature player, Prince Fielder, left town in his prime to sign a large (one might even say Prince Fielder-sized) contract with the Tigers.

All of that is to say, most fans would probably opt for a postseason win from the 1980s Brewers here, rather than the more recent version. Naturally, WPL does not care, and in this case, at least, I agree with it.

Game 5, 2011 NLDS: Brewers 3, Diamondbacks 2 (10). The decisive game of the series matched up the two aces, pitting Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo against Arizona's... Ian Kennedy? Man, it's only been four years and it's still hard to remember that Kennedy had a 21-4 season.

Both pitchers put the opposing team's MVP candidate on base in the first, as Arizona's Justin Upton walked in the top of the inning and Milwaukee's Ryan Braun singled in the bottom, but both runners were left on. Gallardo allowed a two-out single to Ryan Roberts and walked Gerardo Parra in the second, but Kennedy flied out to strand both men. However, after a 1-2-3 second for the Brewers, Upton homered in the third to put Arizona on the board.

Kennedy was flawless again in the third, and Gallardo worked around a leadoff hit in the fourth. Nyjer Morgan then led off the bottom of the fourth with a double and took third on a wild pitch. Braun walked, and Rickie Weeks was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Jerry Hairston Jr. then hit what the play-by-play describes as a popup to second, but it was most likely actually to shallow right, because Morgan was able to tag up and score the tying run.

Kennedy singled in the top of the fifth, but was erased on a double play; Corey Hart reached with two outs in the bottom of the inning and was left on. Two-out singles by Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Young put Diamondbacks on the corners in the sixth, but Roberts grounded out to leave them there, and the Brewers pulled ahead in the bottom of the inning. Braun led off with a double, and Fielder walked. Weeks popped up a bunt back to the mound and Hairston lined out, but Yuniesky Betancourt singled to bring Braun home. Jonathan Lucroy then struck out to end the inning.

Let's just pause a moment to reflect on the fact that it was only four years ago that Jonathan Lucroy was hitting eighth for the Brewers, behind Yuniesky Betancourt. Three years later, Betancourt was out of baseball, and Lucroy garnered a justifiable top-5 finish in the MVP voting.

Both starters were done for the day after six. Takashi Saito retired Arizona in order in the seventh, and Bryan Shaw did the same to Milwaukee in the bottom of the inning. The Diamondbacks threatened against Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth, as Aaron Hill led off with a walk and Miguel Montero's one-out single moved him to third. Goldschmidt struck out, Young walked to load the bases, and Roberts then grounded into a force to leave the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.

David Hernandez set the Brewers down in order in the home eighth, and Arizona went back to work against John Axford in the ninth. Parra led off with a double, and Sean Burroughs singled him to third. Willie Bloomquist followed with a bunt single that brought Parra home with the tying run. Axford recovered to retire the next three Diamondbacks, preserving the unwanted tie, and Hernandez was spotless again in the bottom of the ninth, sending the game to extras.

Axford remained on the mound for the tenth, and worked a 1-2-3 inning. JJ Putz took over in the bottom of the inning, and with one out, Carlos Gomez singled and stole second. Morgan followed with a single that drove Gomez home and secured Milwaukee's first postseason series win in 29 years.

Like the previously-covered Mariners and Nationals/Expos, the Brewers have never won multiple postseason series in the same year. This time, they would fall to David Freese in a six-game series in which the rest of the Cardinals made occasional cameo appearances. 2011 ended as the best year for the recent Brewers; Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke would soon move on, and the other top players on the team also departed or declined or got suspended for PED use. But at its best, this was a fine team, and this game provided them with an excellent showcase.

The Brewers' honorable mention section is exactly one game: the decisive Game 5 of the 1982 ALCS, in which they came from behind on a two-run Cecil Cooper single in the seventh, then hung on despite the Angels putting the tying run on second in the ninth.

It should be noted that while we've covered the two best portions of the Brewers franchise, there's one more great Milwaukee team that should be discussed. But we'll save the late '50s Milwaukee Braves for next time.

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