The Brewers’ 2019 season came to an abrupt end on Tuesday, but left us dozens of moments to remember for years to come. What follows is Part 2 of the list of items good, bad or just weird that I added to my “Today in Brewers History” calendar this season. Here’s Part 1 in the series, which contains the events up to and including the All-Star break.
Veteran infielder Tyler Saladino collected exactly eight runs batted in as a Brewer in 2019, and he did it with two swings of the bat on back-to-back days. The first erased a 4-0 deficit against the Diamondbacks in Arizona, and the latter put the Brewers in front of the Reds in the eighth inning at Miller Park. Saladino’s heroics in the second game, unfortunately, were all for naught: His blast gave the Brewers a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning but Cincinnati rebounded with a two-run homer from Eugenio Suarez in the top of the ninth to win 6-5. Jeremy Jeffress allowed the latter bomb and posted a -.618 Win Percentage Added in the game, worst by a Brewer in 2019.
After dropping back-to-back decisions, the Brewers salvaged the Reds series with a Wednesday matinee victory at Miller Park. Keston Hiura homered as part of a three-run fifth inning that proved to be the difference in a 5-4 victory. The day’s historical significance, however, came from the dugout: This was Craig Counsell’s 729th game as manager of the Brewers, moving him into fourth place on the franchise’s all-time list. Assuming he returns in 2020 he’ll pass Tom Trebelhorn for third place on that list in May, and he only needs 52 more wins to pass both Trebelhorn and Ned Yost to move into second on the Brewers’ all-time list in that category.
July 29 and July 31
The Brewers were only a few games over .500 but found themselves in the heat of the NL Central race at the trade deadline, lurking just a game behind the tied Cubs and Cardinals at the end of the month of July. They responded with some trades that were not widely praised at the time, but paid dividends. They landed Jordan Lyles, Drew Pomeranz, Ray Black, and Jake Faria in three separate transactions. Lyles may have been the best starter moved at the deadline, as he posted a 2.45 ERA across 11 appearances in Milwaukee. Pomeranz, meanwhile, struck out 45 batters in 26 1/3 innings after joining the Crew and became one of Craig Counsell’s most reliable relievers.
On a Saturday night at Nationals Park, the Brewers and Nats hooked up in a marathon slugfest that will likely be remembered as emblematic of 2019’s lively offensive era. The Brewers blew 5-0, and 8-5 leads in the early innings, homered three times in the top of the ninth to retake a 12-11 advantage, then gave up a run in the bottom of the inning to send the game to extras tied at 12. The two teams went on to trade runs in the 13th before the Brewers scored twice in the top of the 14th and held on for a 15-14 victory. Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun both had multiple homers in the game, accounting for four of the 11 hits in the contest. The two teams combined for 29 runs on 38 hits and 18 walks, posting a combined .417 on-base percentage in the game. Nineteen pitchers appeared in the contest, and 10 of them gave up runs.
That August 17 game was the only notable blemish on Jordan Lyles’ second tour with the Brewers. In his next start, he bounced back nicely, pitching six no-hit innings against the Diamondbacks. He allowed a pair of walks, but nothing else through the first two thirds of the game. However, Lyles was lifted after throwing 99 pitches. Devin Williams relieved him in the seventh and allowed a two-out single on a bloop fly ball to break up the no-no.
Lyles is one of just two Brewers pitchers to work six or more innings in a game and be relieved without allowing a hit. The other was Ben McDonald in July of 1997 in his second-to-last MLB appearance. Saving Lyles’ bullets worked out better for the Brewers: Including this start, he posted a 1.91 ERA over his final seven appearances and the Brewers won all seven of those games.
This game was notable for a second reason: Jeremy Jeffress allowed a run in the ninth in his 301st and final Brewers appearance. The fifth most oft-used pitcher in franchise history, he was placed on the DL soon after and released in September.
A few days later, the Brewers parted ways with another standout pitcher from their 2018 team, releasing Jhoulys Chacin after he posted a 5.79 ERA across 88 2/3 innings. Chacin was the Brewers’ Opening Day starter, a role that has been increasingly fraught with peril in recent years. Chacin eventually caught on with the Red Sox, but his performance did not improve in the American League East: He made six appearances for Boston but lasted just 14 2/3 innings across those outings, allowing 12 earned runs on six homers.
A 4-8 stretch in mid-August may have left Brewers fans wondering what else could go wrong, but almost no one would have guessed what happened on this day: The Brewers had just fallen behind the Cardinals on Yadier Molina’s second home run of the night when a pop-up rainstorm caught everyone unaware and resulted in a rain delay at Miller Park. Play was halted for nine minutes while fans rushed for cover and waited for the roof to close. Play eventually resumed and the Cardinals won the game 6-3 to open up a 6.5-game advantage over the Crew in the NL Central.
Expanded rosters brought several welcome sights to Miller Park, but perhaps none more significant than Brent Suter. A year removed from Tommy John surgery, Suter returned to the Majors and worked 2 1/3 innings in a loss to the Astros, allowing a single run on a Yordan Alvarez homer. As it turns out, that solo shot was the only run Suter would allow the rest of the way. He pitched in 10 games in September and October (including one postseason appearance) and posted a 0.47 ERA.
In what felt like a must-win game at Miller Park, the Brewers hosted the Cubs in the first of a four-game series and came up well short. They led early, but their hopes were dashed by a five-run sixth inning as the Cubs rolled to a 10-5 victory and appeared to all but finalize the Brewers’ October plans. The loss dropped the Brewers’ odds of reaching the postseason to 5.6 percent, the lowest they had been at any point during the season.
The Brewers bounced back the next night, of course, in large part due to another offensive contribution from Yasmani Grandal. He went 2-for-5 in the game with a home run off of Cole Hamels, his 24th long ball of the season. This was Grandal’s 22nd home run as a catcher, setting a new franchise record. In fact, Grandal replaced a who’s who of Brewers catchers atop single season leaderboards this season: On top of passing Dave Nilsson on the list above, he also broke Darrell Porter’s record for walks while catching, Ted Simmons’ record for runs scored and Jonathan Lucroy’s record for strikeouts.
After tearing up the basepaths for much of the early season, Christian Yelich gave his legs a break as the grind of a long year wore on him. From July 17 to September 6 he attempted just four steals in 39 appearances after going 25 times in his first 87 games. On this night, however, Yelich had a milestone in reach and he went for it, stealing three times as part of a 2-for-2, three walk night in a 3-2 win over the Cubs. The third steal gave Yelich 30 on the season and (at the time) the 12th 40-home run, 30-steal season in MLB history. Some of the others on that list also had Milwaukee ties: Ryan Braun had 41 home runs and 30 steals in 2012, and Hank Aaron founded the 40/30 club as a Milwaukee Brave in 1963.
A couple of nights later the Brewers’ outfielders all had big nights in Miami. Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain each reached base three times in a win over the Marlins but both were overshadowed by rookie Trent Grisham, who went 5-for-6 out of the leadoff spot with two runs scored and two RBI, becoming the youngest Brewer ever to connect for five hits in a game. Grisham had a chance for an even more memorable milestone: He came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning needing a home run to complete the cycle. He singled to center field for his fifth hit instead.
It’s a foul ball that will live in infamy: In the top of the first inning at Marlins Park Christian Yelich fouled a ball off of his right knee, then collapsed in a heap and had to be helped off the field. The Brewers kept the news quiet during the game, but later revealed that Yelich had suffered a fractured kneecap and was done for the season. The Brewers received better news later when they learned that Yelich’s knee would not require surgery and that he was expected to fully recover for the 2020 season, but their still-low playoff odds took a significant hit with the news.
While Christian Yelich was on the shelf, Mike Moustakas re-emerged as an offensive threat. He had made just seven plate appearances over the previous 15 days but returned to the lineup in a big way in a 7-5 win over the Marlins, going 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBI. The second homer broke a 5-5 tie in the top of the ninth inning and powered the Brewers to another victory. Moustakas’ big offensive night was estimated at .828 win probability added, the best mark by a Brewer during the 2019 season.
On a Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, the Brewers staged a late-inning rally that turned a lot of skeptics into believers: A 1-0 game in the seventh inning quickly turned into an offensive battle, capped by Ryan Braun’s two-out, ninth inning come-from-behind grand slam to give the Crew a 7-4 lead. They eventually held on to win 7-6. The home run was also the 232nd of the season for the Brewers, setting a new franchise record. Three of the four highest home run totals in franchise history have come in the last three years, with 2007 as the lone exception.
The Brewers carried that hot streak through another 10 days and improved to 19-4 in September when they routed the Reds 9-2 in Cincinnati. Braun had the big hit again in this game, a first inning grand slam as part of a six-run opening frame. Six runs was the most the Brewers scored in any inning this season.
With the win the Brewers improved to 88-70 on the season and eliminated the Cubs from postseason contention, clinching back-to-back playoff appearances for just the second time in franchise history.
The Brewers’ regular season wrapped up with a thud in Colorado and they missed an opportunity to tie the Cardinals atop the NL Central on this Friday night, falling 11-7 at Coors Field. Alex Claudio made a little bit of history in the game, however: His sixth inning appearance was his 83rd of the season, tying Ken Sanders’ franchise record set in 1971. This was also Claudio’s final appearance of the season, however, and not much of a note to end on. He faced four batters. Three of them reached and they all came around to score as the Rockies blew the game open.
The frustration grew even worse for the Brewers the next night: With the Cardinals losing to the Cubs for the second consecutive day, the Brewers took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth and just needed six outs to move into a tie for first in the NL Central. Instead, Drew Pomeranz, Josh Hader, and Matt Albers gave up a solo home run each in the eighth, ninth and tenth inning to let the Rockies walk off with a 3-2 victory.
The Brewers got off to a hot start in the Wild Card Game, with Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames homering in the first two innings off Max Scherzer to stake Brandon Woodruff and the bullpen lefties to a 3-0 lead. Brent Suter and Drew Pomeranz followed with three scoreless innings in relief, but the Nationals rallied for three in the bottom of the eighth against Josh Hader and ended Milwaukee’s season with a 4-3 defeat. Per Baseball Reference, the Brewers’ odds of winning the game hit 77 percent with Thames’ solo homer and never dipped below 71 percent until Juan Soto’s RBI single swung the game. By Win Percentage added, Soto’s hit was the single most impactful play in Brewers postseason history, replacing Cecil Cooper’s bases loaded single in Game 5 of the 1982 ALCS.