It ended sooner than many had hoped or expected, but the 2021 MLB season still left behind plenty of memories—good, bad, and weird—that will live on in the annals of Brewers franchise history. In the second part of our recap of the 2021 season, we look at the moments I’ve added to the “Today in Brewers History” calendar since July 1. Part 1 of the series, covering events from March through June, ran last week.
July 3 – The Streak Goes to 11
Any path to the postseason typically involves making hay against bad teams, and that’s what the Brewers did in late June and early July. They won the last two games of a series against the woeful Diamondbacks, swept a seven-game homestand against the Rockies and floundering Cubs, then went to Pittsburgh and won the first three games of their set with the Pirates. The win on this day was their 11th in a row, giving them the second longest winning streak in franchise history. The timing of the streak was also perfect. On the day of the first win, the Brewers and Cubs were tied for the National League Central, but the Crew’s streak lined up with the start of Chicago’s tailspin. In a span of less than two weeks, they opened up an eight-game lead.
July 6 – Let’s Get Rowdy
Having already struck gold on one buy-low transaction in 2021 when they added Willy Adames, on this day the Brewers decided to try again and acquired first baseman Rowdy Tellez from the Blue Jays. Tellez, a one-time top prospect and a prolific hitter in 2020, was off to a rough start with Toronto and was hitting .209 with a .272 on-base and .338 slugging in 50 games before the trade. Tellez’s bat took a while to get going in Milwaukee, but the move eventually paid significant dividends: From July 23 to August 14, Tellez appeared in 20 games and batted .371 with a .426 on-base and .710 slugging. The Brewers went 14-6 over that span. And, of course, Tellez home runs accounted for two-thirds of the Brewers’ runs in the NLDS.
July 13 – Five All-Stars
For the third time in four years, the Brewers tied a franchise record by sending five players to the All-Star Game, this time at Coors Field in Denver. First-timers Corbin Burnes, Omar Narvaez, and Freddy Peralta joined Brandon Woodruff, who was making his second appearance, and Josh Hader, who was selected for the third consecutive time. The quintet of stars had a somewhat forgettable night in Denver: Narvaez went 1-for-2 with a single coming off the bench and Freddy Peralta struck out the side in a scoreless frame, but Woodruff and Hader did not pitch, and Corbin Burnes picked up the loss after allowing two runs on four hits in his two innings of work.
July 18 – Reds Again
The Brewers closed out the season’s unofficial first half with a four-game series against the Reds at American Family Field, but didn’t have to wait long to see them again: In a bizarre scheduling quirk, the two teams met again for a three-game set in Cincinnati immediately following the All-Star break. All told, the two teams played seven consecutive games against each other over a span of 11 days. The Brewers had scuffled a bit in the series before the break at home, but turned it on when they headed back out on the road by winning all three games in Cincinnati by a combined score of 26-10. Three consecutive wins went a long way towards knocking the Reds out of contention: From the first game of this series through the end of the season they went 35-36 and missed the postseason.
July 28 – Enter Escobar
In the final days before the trade deadline, the Brewers decided to add one more bat, picking up third baseman and 2021 All-Star Eduardo Escobar from the Diamondbacks and announcing their intentions to play him at first base. Escobar was the Diamondbacks’ leader in home runs with 22 (he still is, actually, as no one else hit more than 14), but had never played first base in any of his 1,080 MLB games before coming to Milwaukee. Rowdy Tellez’s emergence meant the Brewers didn’t need Escobar at first as often as they expected, but they still welcomed his bat into the regular lineup. Escobar played in 48 games for the Brewers down the stretch and batted .268 with a .342 on-base and .458 slugging.
July 29 – Reinforcements That Required Reinforcements
Not every deadline deal works out, and on this day, the Brewers made a pair that they may live to regret. In separate transactions they acquired relievers John Curtiss and Daniel Norris from the Marlins and Tigers, respectively, dealing away catching prospect Payton Henry and pitcher Reese Olson. Curtiss struggled across just six relief outings as a Brewer before being shut down and requiring elbow surgery. Norris never found his footing and posted a 6.64 ERA across 18 appearances. Meanwhile, the prospects the Brewers traded for these two relievers are off to nice starts with their new organizations. Henry made his MLB debut with the Marlins this September, and Olson logged a pair of scoreless starts in High-A before being promoted to AA Erie as a 21-year-old.
August 2 – The Ax Returns, Falls
Desperate for bullpen help while working through a wave of injuries and COVID quarantines, the Brewers turned to an old friend and acquired reliever John Axford, who had been attempting a comeback in AAA with the Blue Jays. When the Brewers added Axford to the active roster, it had been nearly eight years since his last game as a Brewer, and he had pitched just 11 professional games since his last appearance in the Majors in 2018. As luck would have it, the Brewers had a spot for Axford immediately upon his return: They took a 6-0 lead into the top of the ninth against the Pirates, and “New Noise” blared over the American Family Field speakers for the first time in years. Axford’s body, however, was not up to the challenge: He hit a batter, got a lineout, then allowed back-to-back singles and a walk before leaving with the trainer and being done for the season. The Brewers eventually got out of the jam and won 6-2.
Axford’s return was notable for another reason, however: He was the 54th player to appear in a game for the Brewers this season, setting a new franchise record. Seven other players would go on to make their Brewers debuts in the weeks ahead, giving the Brewers 61 unique players in 2021.
August 3 – Houser’s Turn to Flirt with History
As noted in the first part of this feature, it seemed like it might only be a matter of time before this Brewers team found a way to end its 34-year no-hitter drought. On this night it was Adrian Houser’s turn to try and he gave it a good run, pitching 6 1/3 innings against the Pirates without allowing a hit. At the time Houser was just the fourth Brewer in franchise history to log six or more innings and leave with no hits allowed. With Houser’s pitch count climbing, however, Craig Counsell turned to his new bullpen additions: The aforementioned Daniel Norris and John Curtiss. They combined to face seven batters and allowed five of them to reach, blowing a 5-0 lead. The Brewers eventually lost the game 8-5.
August 6 – Five Hundred for Counsell
The 2021 campaign was Craig Counsell’s seventh season at the helm of the team down the road from his childhood home, and he’s starting to re-write the Brewers’ managerial record books. Early in the season, he passed Ned Yost to become the second winningest manager in Brewers franchise history, and with a walkoff win over the Giants on this night, he became just the second manager in franchise history to rack up 500 wins. Counsell got to 500 wins in just 956 tries, and would go on to make even more history early the following week: In the second game of a doubleheader on August 10, he managed his 960th game, moving past Yost for second in that category. On September 24, he also passed 1,000 managerial games, becoming the second Brewer ever to reach that milestone.
Assuming future baseball seasons continue uninterrupted and he remains in Milwaukee, Counsell has a couple of major milestones on the near horizon. He needs just 45 wins to pass Phil Garner for first place in franchise history, and he’s on pace to pass Garner to become the longest-tenured manager in the history of Major League Baseball in Milwaukee sometime early in 2023. Counsell, by the way, is still only 51 years old.
August 7 – A Late Inning Roller Coaster
The Brewers already had an extra inning walkoff win under their belt against the Giants, owners of the best record in baseball, and appeared poised to clinch a series victory when they took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning of a Saturday night game at American Family Field. Unfortunately, most of the night’s action was yet to come. The Giants tied it in the top of the ninth on a dropped fly ball that should have been the game’s final out, setting the stage for some wild extra innings.
The Giants sent eight batters to the plate in the top of the 10th, scoring three times against relievers Miguel Sanchez and Angel Perdomo and seemingly blowing the game open. The Brewers, however, were not done: They got home runs from Luis Urias and Willy Adames to score three runs of their own in the bottom half and force an 11th inning. The Giants responded with four more runs in the top of that frame, and the Brewers managed just one in the bottom half. A game that had been 2-1 with two outs in the top of the ninth ended with a 9-6 score in the 11th.
August 11 – Burnesing Up the Record Books
Corbin Burnes was good all season, of course, but on this day his National League Cy Young candidacy may have turned a corner. The Brewers scored seven times in the top of the first inning to give him a big lead to work with against the Cubs, but he wouldn’t have needed it: He struck out every batter he faced in the bottom of the second, third and fourth innings, and when he got Chicago first baseman Frank Schwindel swinging to lead off the fifth he tied an MLB record with 10 consecutive Ks. Burnes pitched eight shutout innings in the game, allowed just four hits, did not walk a batter and recorded 15 strikeouts. He was only the second pitcher in Brewers franchise history to log 15 Ks in a game, joining Ben Sheets and his 18-strikeout game in 2004.
August 12 – The Grand Pineapple
The Brewers were already carrying a 5-1 lead on the Cubs heading into the fifth inning of this day’s game at Wrigley Field, but Manny Piña was about to blow it open. He hit a fifth inning grand slam off Kyle Hendricks to give the Crew a 9-1 lead, then a sixth inning two-run homer off Ryan Meisinger to expand the lead to 13-1. Piña, however, might not even have had the biggest game by a Brewer in this contest: Luis Urias went 5-for-6 in the game and all five hits went for extra bases, with two home runs and three doubles. All told, Eduardo Escobar, Urias, Jace Peterson, and Piña combined to go 16-for-23, score 14 runs and drive in 16 in a 17-4 Brewers win.
August 21 – Wong Scored on What?
The Brewers scored 738 runs during the regular season, sixth-most in the National League, but none of them were weirder than the one that tied the game in the fifth inning against the Nationals on this day. Trailing 3-2 with runners on second and third and one out, Omar Narvaez popped out to the first baseman in foul territory and Kolten Wong tagged up and scored on a ball that was never more than 60 feet from home plate. The Brewers went on to score five in the eighth inning and won 9-6.
September 4 – The Houser Party
On September 3, the Cardinals piled on the Brewers at American Family Field, scoring multiple times in each of the first three innings of an eventual 15-4 rout. The next night, however, Adrian Houser got revenge. The Brewers got Houser a single run in the first inning and three more in the second and he took it from there, pitching a complete game, three-hit shutout. Houser was the first Brewer to pitch a complete game shutout in 1,011 games, the longest such streak in MLB history. The last Brewer to do it, Kyle Lohse in 2014, had already been out of baseball for five years.
September 5 – The Vogelbach-off
The Brewers followed up Houser’s unlikely event, however, with something even less expected: On a Sunday afternoon in the series finale with the Cardinals, St. Louis took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning and seemed to have a series victory sewn up. Jackie Bradley Jr. led off the inning with a double, though, and scored on Luke Maile’s single to make it 5-2 and set the stage for one of the most dramatic moments in franchise history. With out in the inning Jace Peterson doubled and Eduardo Escobar walked to bring up pinch hitter Daniel Vogelbach, the last batter available off Craig Counsell’s bench. Vogelbach took a first pitch ball, then hit the first walkoff, pinch hit grand slam in Brewers franchise history. Adam McCalvy has much more on the hit, one of the rarest of its kind.
September 11 – Move Over, Nieves
On the day after Juan Nieves’ 1987 no-hitter, the Brewers allowed a hit. They allowed one again the next day, and the day after that, and so on. Eventually the streak was old enough to vote, and then to drink, and then to get this reference. By September 10, the Brewers had allowed at least one hit in 5,473 consecutive games, the ninth-longest streak in MLB history. But then, in one night, Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader brought it all to an end. Facing a Cleveland team that had already been no-hit twice this season, Burnes retired the first 18 batters in order. His bid for a perfect game ended with a leadoff walk in the seventh but he rebounded to strike out two more batters that inning, then worked a 1-2-3 eighth. With his pitch count now up to 115, Craig Counsell removed Burnes in favor of Josh Hader for the ninth and he retired the side in order to finish just the second no-hitter in Brewers franchise history.
That wasn’t the only bit of history from that night, however: The win was also the Brewers’ 48th road victory of the season, breaking the 1982 club’s franchise record. They would go on to win 50 road games, second-most in all of baseball.
September 14 – The Last Zombie
On a Tuesday night in Detroit, the Brewers and Tigers engaged in a pitcher’s duel for the ages, with Freddy Peralta working six scoreless frames but being matched inning-for-inning by former Brewer Wily Peralta. Both teams’ bullpens held serve through regulation, then worked around the runner starting on second base in the 10th inning, and the game remained scoreless heading into the 11th. The Brewers failed to score in their half of that inning, also, but the Tigers walked off with a 1-0 victory when Derek Hill doubled off Hunter Strickland to lead off the bottom half. This was the Brewers’ final regular season extra inning game of the year and, if the rumors are to be believed, their last game ever with the runner on second, frequently referred to as the “zombie runner,” to start extra innings. If the rule does not return for 2022, Pablo Reyes will go down in history as the last Brewer to fill that role.
September 18 – Playoff Bound
The Brewers assisted the Cubs in their continued freefall at American Family Field on this night, scoring two in the bottom of the eighth and turning the ball over to Josh Hader to nail down the final outs of a 6-4 victory. With the win, the Brewers improved to 91-57 on the season and clinched a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season. With playoff appearances in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, the Brewers have reached the postseason as often in the past four years as they did in the first 49 years of franchise history.
September 23 – A Slam, But Not Enough
When the Brewers clinched a playoff berth it seemed like it would only be a day or two before they also clinched the NL Central: They were 12 ½ games up with 14 to play, and had the Cardinals coming to American Family Field for four games. The celebration would have to wait, however, as the Cardinals won all four contests. The fourth game in the series was particularly tough: After scoring just five runs in the first three contests, the Brewers’ bats appeared to have broken out with Tyrone Taylor’s first inning grand slam off Adam Wainwright. The Brewers led 5-0 in the fifth inning but the Cardinals chipped away, scoring in each of the final three innings to put away an 8-5 victory and a series sweep.
September 26 – (NL Central) Champions At Last
In the middle of a two-week stretch where they struggled mightily against the Cardinals and Dodgers, the Brewers welcomed the struggling Mets to Milwaukee and took care of business. They swept a three-game set at American Family Field, with the final win clinching first place in the NL Central and the second seed in the National League playoffs.
September 29 – Snapping the Streak
One of the biggest stories in all of baseball during the season’s final weeks was the surging St. Louis Cardinals, who played their way back into the playoff picture with a 17-game September winning streak (tied for ninth-longest in MLB history) that moved their playoff odds (per FanGraphs) from just 5% all the way up to 100%. Five of the wins in that streak came against the Brewers, including the September 28 game that locked the Cardinals into playoff position. On this night, though, the Brewers finally put an end to it. They scored a run in the first inning and Adrian Houser and the bullpen took it from there, holding the Cardinals to just three hits in a 4-0 victory.
October 1 – Slammed Again
One of the best pitching contingents in Brewers history set an unlikely record in 2021 by allowing 11 grand slams, breaking a franchise record set by a 2010 club that led the NL in home runs allowed. The 2021 team tied the record on this night when Eric Lauer gave up a fifth inning slam to Dodgers infielder and likely MVP candidate Trea Turner, and they broke it on the season’s final day when Turner hit another one, this time off Aaron Ashby.
October 8 – Welcome Back, Playoff Baseball
The Brewers have been a postseason team in each of the last four seasons but, due to their seeding and the playoff format, the entirety of their brief playoff runs in 2019 (a Wild Card loss to the Nationals) and 2020 (a Wild Card round sweep in Los Angeles) were conducted on the road. As such, when the Brewers and Braves took the field on this day it was the first playoff baseball game in Milwaukee since Game 7 of the 2018 NLCS.
The Brewers ran out to a 1-0 lead in the series with help from Corbin Burnes, who worked six scoreless innings, Rowdy Tellez, whose seventh inning two-run home run was the difference, and an unlikely 3-2 double play to get Burnes out of a jam in the first inning. Strange double plays would become a theme of the week.
October 11 – The Bats Stay Cold
The Brewers hadn’t scored a run since Tellez’s home run in the seventh inning of Game 1 when the series moved to Atlanta for the third game, and a change of scenery did not wake up the offense. They managed just five hits and a walk against Braves starter Ian Anderson and the Atlanta bullpen, losing 3-0 for the second consecutive game to fall behind 2-1 in the best-of-five series. The Brewers pitching and defense, however, did a nice job limiting the damage again on this day. For the second time in three games they turned a non-conventional double play, this time catching Braves outfielder Adam Duvall trying to take second on a fly out and negating a run that would have scored on the play.
October 12 – Season on the Line
In the end, the Brewers found themselves in the position they would have wanted with the season hanging in the balance: In the eighth inning of a tie game, they had arguably the best left-handed reliever in baseball on the mound in Josh Hader to face one of the game’s elite left-handed hitters, Freddie Freeman. The matchup played out in the Braves’ favor, with Freeman hitting a home run to give Atlanta a 5-4 lead and, eventually, a berth in the NLCS.
The road to that point featured a bunch of memorable moments, of course:
• Adam Duvall had another baserunning misadventure leading to a non-traditional double play, as the Brewers doubled him off second base on a fly out to end the second inning.
• In addition to fielding several tough ground balls in high leverage situations, Luis Urias made a play that might get replayed for years when he slid in to scoop a dropped foul popup out of the dirt for an out.
• Rowdy Tellez hit his second home run of the series, a 450-foot blast to give the Brewers a brief 4-2 lead in the fifth inning.
• Brandon Woodruff, pitching in relief for the first time since the 2018 NLCS, got the Brewers out of trouble in the sixth and worked a scoreless seventh to preserve a tie game.
All of that was not enough, however, as the Brewers were unable to come back in the top of the ninth with the top of the order due up. With Eduardo Escobar on first base Kolten Wong popped up a bunt, Willy Adames struck out swinging, and Christian Yelich struck out looking to end the Brewers’ season.