The Milwaukee Brewers’ 2021 season isn’t over yet, but it’s already been one of the most memorable campaigns in franchise history. For over a decade, I’ve been maintaining a “Today In Brewers History” calendar, a collection of notable transactions, games and moments, which I occasionally share on Twitter. The last few years have been well-represented in that space, but 2021 blows them out of the water.
In lieu of a season recap, what follows is a brief look at the first 23 items—the good, the bad and the weird—added to that calendar during the 2021 season. Part two of this feature, containing the notable events from July through October, will run following the conclusion of the Brewers’ playoff run.
March 4 — Enter JBJ
During the David Stearns era, the Brewers have never been shy about making late additions to their roster, and this spring was no exception. Players had already been in camp at American Family Fields of Phoenix for nearly a month when the Brewers added a locker for veteran outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. in the clubhouse.
Bradley, a former All-Star, Gold Glove recipient and ALCS MVP award winner in Boston, joined a crowded Brewers outfield that already featured Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Avisail Garcia. The move sparked a familiar question in Brewers camp about finding playing time with more candidates than available positions, but the situation largely resolved itself: With Lorenzo Cain missing more than half of their games, the Brewers found opportunities to get Bradley into more than 130 games despite his underwhelming offensive season.
April 1 — An Opening Day Walkoff
The Brewers and Twins opened the 2021 regular season with a game that turned out to be a pretty clear glimpse at how both teams’ seasons would go. The Twins took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning at newly-renamed American Family Field, but Travis Shaw’s two-run double capped off a three-run comeback to force extra innings and Orlando Arcia drove home the walkoff run in the 10th on a fielder’s choice. It was the first of many frustrating losses for the Twins, who have made the postseason in three of the last four years, but quickly fell out of contention in 2021 and finished in last place in a weak American League Central.
April 3 — Corbin Burnes’ Opening Act
Corbin Burnes’ first start of the season featured a pretty clear vision of his season to come: He retired 19 of the first 20 Twins he faced, with the lone exception coming on a fifth inning hit batsman. Twins starter Jose Berrios was up to the challenge on this day, however, and also took a perfect game into the fifth inning (and a no-hitter through six). In the end, Twins outfielder Byron Buxton’s seventh inning homer off Burnes was the first hit by either team in the game. Berrios and three Minnesota relievers made that run hold up, limiting the Brewers to just one hit in a 2-0 victory.
April 6 — So Long, Orlando
Less than a week into the regular season, the Brewers were already ready to start making moves. They sent longtime shortstop Orlando Arcia to the Braves for two pitchers, Chad Sobotka and Patrick Wiegel. Sobotka would go on to spend the 2021 season with AAA Nashville, while Wiegel got into three games as a Brewer in April and May. At the time of the trade, meanwhile, Arcia was the Brewers’ active career leader in hits. He spent most of the season in AAA Gwinnett with the Braves, where he hit 17 home runs in 74 games, but has been back in Atlanta this September and could be on the postseason roster when the Brewers and Braves meet in the NLDS.
April 8 — A Postseason Odds Nadir
The Brewers got six scoreless innings from Corbin Burnes and took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning of the Cardinals’ home opener, but it wasn’t meant to be on this day. St. Louis scored one in the seventh and two more in the eighth to pick up a 3-1 victory and improve to 5-2 on the season. The loss dropped the Brewers to 3-4, and they were averaging less than three runs per game across their first seven contests. They were off the next day, but a Reds win caused them to hit one of the season’s lowest points: Following that evening’s action FanGraphs estimated their chances of reaching the postseason at just 36.2%, the lowest those odds would drop all season.
April 11 — Another Day, Another K
The Brewers pounced on the Cardinals early and never looked back in this one, scoring four in the first and three more in the second of an eventual 9-3 victory. Avisail Garcia and Travis Shaw homered and pitcher Brett Anderson drew a bases loaded walk in the game, but the small piece of history belonged to second baseman Jace Peterson. In the top of the second inning Peterson faced Cardinals reliever Johan Oviedo and struck out, becoming the first Brewer to do so in the game. That gave the Brewers at least one strikeout in 3,500 consecutive games, a streak stretching all the way back to August of 1998 (here’s the last game without one). The Brewers have struck out in every game this season to extend that streak to 3,653, the second-longest in MLB history.
April 12 — A Forgotten Angel
When you manage over 1,000 games in the majors, a milestone Craig Counsell recently passed, you’re bound to have a stumble or two along the way. On this day, while attempting to coast to the finish line of an eventual victory over the Cubs, he had a memorable one. The Brewers had scored six runs in the sixth inning and took a 6-1 lead into the top of the ninth when Counsell called upon recently-called-up reliever Angel Perdomo to make his season debut. There was just one problem, however: Perdomo was a late addition to the roster and (in a suspected technical glitch) had not been added to that night’s lineup card. As such, he was ineligible to pitch and Drew Rasmussen had to scramble to get ready in his place. Rasmussen allowed the first three batters he faced to reach before the Brewers turned to Josh Hader, who nailed down the final three outs for the save.
May 1 — The Four Comebacks
In a season full of memorable games, on the first day of May, the Brewers and Dodgers played a contest that nonetheless stands out as an instant classic. The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the first and a 2-1 lead in the third, but the Brewers answered back each time, and then the pitching staffs settled in. Brandon Woodruff and three Brewers relievers kept the Dodgers off the board for the rest of regulation, while the Dodgers’ impromptu bullpen day (sparked by Dustin May’s early departure) led to six consecutive relievers each pitching a scoreless inning.
Things got wilder in extras, when the Dodgers jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the top of the 10th but the Brewers answered again on a Luis Urias sac fly. Finally, the Dodgers seemingly blew the game open with two runs in the top of the eleventh but the Brewers answered one more time, coming from behind for the fourth time in the game with two hits and two walks (including Travis Shaw’s walkoff single) to cap off a 6-5 victory.
May 2 — Bettinger’s Forgettable Debut
An MLB debut is supposed to be a cherished lifelong memory of the moment when years of hard work and determination result in a player finally reaching the pinnacle of his profession and getting to shine on the grandest stage for the first time. Unfortunately, for Alec Bettinger, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Bettinger allowed five runs in the first inning of his first start in the majors, including an A.J. Pollock grand slam, then gave up another grand slam to first baseman Matt Beaty in the second inning. Beaty and Pollock combined to drive in 15 runs in the game as the Dodgers cruised to a 16-4 victory. Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor scored five runs in the game, becoming the first Brewers opponent to do that since another Dodgers outfielder, Shawn Green, scored six in a game in 2002.
May 4 — Welcome back, MiLB (and Nashville)
Minor League Baseball returned for the first time since Labor Day weekend of 2019, and the preceding winter’s widespread reorganization led to some changes for the Brewers. For the third time in as many seasons, they had a new AAA affiliate as they welcomed the Nashville Sounds back into the fold for the first time since 2014. Two longtime affiliates also swapped levels, with Wisconsin moving from Low-A to High-A to play in the new High-A Central League and Carolina taking a step down the ladder to join the new Low-A East. The Minor League reorganization also removed affiliated baseball from the Pioneer League, a circuit where the Brewers had at least one affiliate (and sometimes two) every season from 1985-2019.
May 6 — 0-for-Phour
Coming off the high of a four-game series win over the Dodgers, the Brewers quickly crashed back to Earth in a road trip to the east coast. They dropped the first five games of that trip, including all four of a series in Philadelphia. The fourth of those games, a 2-0 loss to eventual Cy Young candidate Zack Wheeler, came on this day. The Brewers lost the four games by a combined five runs, and had the tying run on base in the ninth inning of each contest. The next day, the Brewers would lose again to the Marlins, and the six-game losing streak would be their longest of the season.
May 8 — Houser Strikes Twice
When Major League Baseball implemented the universal designated hitter for the 2020 season, it looked like we might have seen the last of pitchers batting. The longstanding rule returned for 2021, though, and pitchers generally looked like they hadn’t batted for a year. As a group they hit just .110 with 17 home runs, three of which came from Angels two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. Every now and then, however, a pitcher still found a pitch they liked. On this day, Adrian Houser found one, hitting the 1-0 pitch from Marlins lefty Daniel Castano out to right center for a solo home run. It was Houser’s second home run of his career, and the first one had also come against Daniel Castano and the Marlins two weeks earlier.
May 13 — Burnes Rewrites the Record Books
Back on the mound after a two-week hiatus, Corbin Burnes picked up right where he left off by setting a pair of MLB records in a single start against the Cardinals. He went five innings in this outing and struck out nine Cardinals, with all of them coming before he issued his first walk. Burnes’ third strikeout of the game came in the second inning and moved him past longtime Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen with 52 strikeouts before his first walk of the season. In the fifth inning, he recorded strikeouts number 57 and 58 of the season, also passing Yankees ace Gerrit Cole for the longest streak of strikeouts without a walk at any point in the season. Cole’s streak was still active, however, and he reclaimed the record and pushed it to 61 in his next start.
May 16 — No Lead Is Safe
Every season needs a few roller coaster rides, and the Brewers and Braves played one for the ages on this Sunday afternoon. The Crew scored in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth innings and got six scoreless innings from Freddy Peralta on their way to an 8-0 lead, and turned the ball over to the bullpen for what seemed likely to be an easy coast to the finish line. It was not. The Braves sent 10 batters to the plate in the top of the seventh inning and scored seven runs, capped by a Freddie Freeman grand slam, making a game that was once a foregone conclusion into one suddenly in question. The Brewers scored two more in the bottom of the seventh, then limited the damage to one run each in the eighth and ninth and held on for a 10-9 victory.
May 21 — Willy Adames Brings New Hope
Every great season has a bottoming-out point, whether it was the 1982 Brewers firing manager Buck Rodgers after a 23-24 start or the 2008 team seemingly falling out of the playoff chase with two weeks left and firing Ned Yost, or the 2018 team dropping five games in Pittsburgh in the four days before the All-Star break. This Brewers team hit their rock bottom in May, a sequence of events that will likely be retold for years and perhaps generations to come. The game on the field that night was over early: The Reds scored three in the first inning and got three home runs from left fielder Jesse Winker in a 9-4 victory. The loss dropped the Brewers to 21-23 and they remained four games back of the first place Cardinals. They would not be either two games under .500 or four games back again at any point in 2021.
Part of the reason for their turnaround was the day’s other big news: They traded two relievers to the Rays for shortstop Willy Adames. Not everyone was immediately sold on the transaction, but Adames’ addition paid near-immediate dividends as Adames hit .308 with a .384 on-base and .508 slugging in his first 18 appearances as a Brewer. The team went 14-4 in those contests and a new story was underway.
June 4 — Peralta’s Brush with History
The combination of the Brewers’ historically good pitching and the sport’s ongoing decline in batting (MLB hitters batted just .244 in 2021, their lowest average since 1968) meant that the team had several flirtations with immortality. Even among incredible peers in a favorable era, however, Freddy Peralta’s 2021 stands out. Opposing batters hit just .165 against him.
On this night against the Diamondbacks Peralta was nearly untouchable. Through his first seven innings, he had allowed three walks and struck out nine batters, but had yet to allow a hit. On his 109th pitch of the night, however, Arizona shortstop Nick Ahmed hit a blooper into left center and brought Peralta’s night to an end. Ahmed’s single was Arizona’s only hit in a 5-1 Brewers victory.
June 10 — Untouchable Timber Rattlers, Again
While the Brewers were still waiting for their first no-hitter in 34 years, one of their minor league affiliates experienced a much shorter gap between them. On May 29 of this year pitchers Freisis Adames and Taylor Floyd combined for a seven-inning no-hitter for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Less than two weeks later, Justin Bullock and Carlos Luna combined for a nine-inning no-hitter against South Bend.
June 11 — Just Keep Walking
One thing this Brewers team did very well all season long was capitalize on opposing pitchers’ mistakes. They drew 582 walks in their first 160 games, third most in the National League and 10th most in franchise history. On this night, however, Brewers batters took it to a new level: Eight different batters combined to draw 11 free passes in a 7-4 win over the Pirates. The turning point in the game was the Brewers’ five-run bottom of the seventh, which featured six walks, including three in a row with the bases loaded.
June 19 — Adames Carries The Load
The legend of Willy Adames continued to grow on a big night at Coors Field. He drove in a run with a double in the first, doubled again on a ground ball in the third, doubled a third time in the top of the seventh and, finally, hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning as the Brewers came back to beat the Rockies 6-5.
This big game improved Adames’ batting line as a Brewer to a .292 average, .352 on-base, and .521 slugging. He was on base 38 times in his first 27 games for Milwaukee.
June 20 — Six Runs in Seven Batters
The momentum from Adames’ huge night did not last long, however: In the series finale against the Rockies the Brewers scored two runs each in the top of the first and second innings and carried a 6-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth, when the Rockies suddenly came to life. The Rockies’ first seven batters in the bottom of the sixth went single, home run, home run, single, home run, line out, home run. In a span of 23 pitches, the Brewers went from leading 6-0 to tied at six. They eventually rebounded, however, and won 7-6 on Daniel Vogelbach’s ninth inning RBI single.
June 23 — First Place for Good
Finally free of Coors Field, the Brewers continued their trip west with a three-game series in Arizona. They clinched another series victory with a 3-2 win in the desert in a Wednesday matinee, but the game is significant for a larger reason. The Brewers and Cubs entered the day tied in the standings, and while the Brewers were winning in Arizona the Cubs had the day off. The victory gave the Brewers a half-game lead in the NL Central, and Milwaukee never looked back.
June 28 — The 10-Run Eighth
By this point, the Brewers and Cubs’ seasons were clearly trending in opposite directions. Milwaukee had won six in a row to open up a three-game lead in the Central when they welcomed their rivals to American Family Field on a Monday night. The contest was tied at four heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, but the Brewers sent 14 batters to the plate in that frame, riding three doubles and a fair of home runs (plus four walks) to a 10-run inning and a 14-4 lead.
June 30 — Picking Up Ashby
Two days later, the Brewers were looking to complete a sweep. However, they ran into trouble early. In his major league debut, starting pitcher Aaron Ashby gave up seven runs in the top of the first inning. The fans who headed for the exits early missed a classic, as the Brewers scored a run in the bottom of the first, five more in the second and eight in the fourth on their way to 15 unanswered runs and a 15-7 victory. Luis Urias had four hits in the game—including a double and a pair of home runs—and he and Willy Adames combined to score six of Milwaukee’s 15 runs.