2011: A Healthy Brew of Magic
The indelible image from a magical 2011 is that of the regularly exuberant Nyjer Morgan, separating from the post NLDS Game 5 celebration, and submerging himself in the splendor, magnitude, and sheer joy of the moment. Following his game-winning hit and the least surprising F-bomb in television history, he took the cross-legged and grinning pose of a joyous kindergartner in a corner of the clubhouse. The celebration, meanwhile, ensued, much like the Brewers season as they advanced to their first NLCS in franchise history.
A bittersweet taste, however, still lingers in the mouths of Brewers players and fans. Sure, the team won a franchise-record 96 games. Yes, they won the division and beat the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. And, of course, it was a seven month long party in Milwaukee. But to get so close and to not taste the full effects of winning it all hurts. Add to this the idea that the St. Louis Cardinals, whom the Brewers were a better team than for the entire year minus one roughly mistimed series in October, ended up hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy, and you have yourself a recipe for “what if….?” thoughts.
But, as they say, time heals all wounds (unless you tend to hold grudges), and, soon enough, 2011 will bring forth only positive memories from Brewers fans, of which there is a plethora to choose from.
There was the 4 hour 35 minute marathon in May that ended royally with a Prince Fielder walk off blast to right field. Or the 4-6-3-2 triple play turned by the Crew against the Dodgers. There were all the hilarious post-game antics of Morgan-err…. Tony Plush. Braun’s game-winning home run vs. the Marlins as the Brewers clinched the division on September 23. And the vivaciously unforgettable “Beast Mode” celebration that enthralled the entire city of Milwaukee.
Deftly put, 2011 was one incredible dream for all Brewers fans alike. After being confined to futility and mediocrity for 29 years, with a brief 2008 Playoff stint thrown in for kicks, Milwaukee baseball finally returned to prominence.
Ryan Braun brought home the Brewers’ first Most Valuable Player award since Robin Yount won it in 1989. Braun out-slugged the competition, beating out Matt Kemp and teammate Prince Fielder for baseball’s most coveted award. He led the league in slugging and in OPS in addition to batting .332, second to only that of New York’s Jose Reyes, and hit 33 homers while driving in 111 RBI. Braun also led the team with 33 stolen bases while only getting thrown out six times and hit .500 with 4 RBI in the NLDS. Ignore the drama for the time being surrounding the Brewers four-time All Star and Silver Slugger; Milwaukee has found itself a star.
The loss of Prince Fielder to free agency will undoubtedly affect the team’s performance offensively. Without the dynamic 1-2 punch of
Braun and Fielder, the 2011 season would have had a significantly different outcome. Fielder’s .415 OBP, 38 home runs, and 120 RBI provided protection to Braun in the 3-hole in the lineup and provided an elite power bat.
It was not all Fielder and Braun, however. All Star Game starter Rickie Weeks was on pace to have a career year until an injury in July set him back. Corey Hart filled in nicely for Weeks at the leadoff spot, finishing the season hitting .285 with 26 homers. He finished the season hitting .301 as the leadoff batter for the Brewers. Morgan proved to be more than all talk, batting .304 with countless clutch hits and stellar defensive play. Jerry Hairston filled in nicely for the injured Weeks before replacing a struggling Casey McGehee come Playoff time. The team produced more than enough offense to back their stellar starting rotation.
GM Doug Melvin’s off-season acquisitions of Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke payed off, with Marcum’s rotation-leading ERA. Greinkem, despite missing 7 starts to begin the season, struck out 201 batters and posted a 16-6 record. Yovani Gallardo proved to be the team’s ace time and time again, and Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson went a combined 24-18 to round out the rotation.
We could go on for days about the key parts to the 2011 Brewers. I just spent four paragraphs discussing the players and didn’t even touch John Axford or Francisco Rodriguez or Jonathan Lucroy or Takashi Saito. This speaks volumes about the depth that the Brewers possessed.
The turnstiles of Miller Park were rushed all year long as the team set a franchise record for attendance with over 3,071,000 million fans. Nothing was magical at all about this influx of Brewers fans to Miller Park. Mix together a great baseball team with a great baseball city and the result is party rockin’ in the house every night. Miller Park was a living nightmare for opposing teams, as the Crew won a franchise-record 57 home games in their friendly confines (Shut up, La Russa, it wasn’t the lighting). Braun, Fielder, Plush & Co. made damn well sure that DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” would be blasted after every game from the same speakers that once chimed “Hell’s Bells” for Trevor Hoffman.
As was Miller Park, homes around Milwaukee were rockin’ on a nightly basis. 96 wins. NL Central champions. National League Championship Series appearance. National League MVP. 3 All Stars. Franchise attendance record. A Prince that blossomed into a King. Nightly lessons of Plushdamentals from T. Plush. Axford’s mustache and saves. Beast mode.
*2011: A Healthy Brew of Magic is the “first inning” of a set of nine posts on An Infectious and Unconditional Love for The Game.
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NLCS: Time for More Game Five Magic for Brewers
Down 2-1 and facing the possibility of being eliminated from the NLCS without going back to Miller Park, Randy Wolf threw a gem on the biggest stage for him as a Brewer. 7 innings of two-run ball along with, finally, some timely hitting from his offense, and the series in knotted up at 2-2 with a guarantee of finishing the series at home for Milwaukee.
Game Five, however, still looms large for both teams.
If Milwaukee wins, the Cardinals are faced with the task of winning back-to-back games in front of a rowdy crowd at Miller Park on Sunday and Monday.
If St. Louis wins, the Brewers will have to beat Edwin Jackson and Chris Carpenter, the two pitchers who have picked up wins thus far in the series.
Losing Game 5 might not be automatically fatal. But it definitely would not be advisable.
For Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin, his headline off-season trade for Zack Greinke will either come to fruition or leave the Brewers wondering ‘what-if’ tonight. Greinke will get the start for the Brewers after picking up the win in Game 1 despite rough numbers.
St. Louis will start Greinke’s Game 1 counterpart Jaime Garcia, whose fifth-inning collapse gave the Brewers a lead and, eventually, the win. At home Garcia has been a different animal, with a 9-4 record and 2.55 era at Busch Stadium.
For Greinke and the Brewers, keeping the Cardinal bats silent in the first inning is key. Wolf is the only starter through Game 4 to not surrender a first inning run, and that momentum carried him through the game, picking up the win. Greinke gave up one run to start Game 1.
Game 5 may evidently come down to the two bullpens, which have been dynamite in locking down leads in the series. Wolf was the first pitcher to go more than six innings in the series.
NLCS Game One: Brewers 9, Cardinals 6: Six Run 5th Gives Milwaukee 1-0 Lead
The ball was jumping out of Miller Park on Sunday afternoon for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Three two-run home runs, two of which came in a six-run fifth inning, propelled the Brewers to a 1-0 lead in the NLCS. Ryan Braun’s 463-foot blast over the Harley Davidson Deck in left-center opened it up, and homers by Prince Fielder and Yuniesky Betancourt ensued in the fifth to give the Brewers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“With the shadows it can get hard (to hit), but I’m just fortunate it went over the fence,” said a modest Ryan Braun on his first inning moon shot off Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia (0-2).
However, it wasn’t all fun and games for Milwaukee, who is 4-0 at home so far in the Playoffs.
A three-run home run by David Freese in the fourth gave the Cardinals a 4-2 lead against Brewers starter Zack Greinke. St. Louis added to their lead with a two-out RBI single off the bat of Lance Berkman in the fifth.
Milwaukee responded, down 5-2 in the fifth. The rally began humbly with a meager base hit through the left side by Corey Hart. Following a Jerry Hairston double to left, Braun sent a Garcia breaking ball down the line in right that barely stayed fair for a ground-rule double. 5-4. Fielder carried the momentum by launching Garcia’s first delivery into the visitor’s bullpen on a rope to give the Brewers the lead 6-5. Octavio Dotel then relieved Garcia and botched a Rickie Weeks grounder, disposing the ball into right field for a two-base error. The usual free-swinging Betancourt then put together an eight-pitch at bat before homering to the Milwaukee bullpen to make it 8-5.
Braun finished with 4 RBI with a homer, double, and two runs scored as the Brewers followed suit of the 1982 Milwaukee team to take the opening game in a Playoff series with St. Louis (the two teams met in the World Series that year).
The team that won Game 1 of the NLCS has advanced to the World Series in 16 of the past 19 years.
Milwaukee is now 17-0 at home in games Greinke (1-0) has started. Greinke, who criticized the demeanor of Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, went six plus innings, allowing all six of St. Louis’ runs, striking out six.
Takashi Saito relieved Greinke after a leadoff single from leadoff man Rafael Furcal in the seventh and immediately made Brewers fans nervous.
With Furcal running on the pitch, the Cardinals avoided a double play and wound up with a Jon Jay single to put runners on the corners with no outs and the heart of the order coming up. Saito avoiding the jam, breaking Albert Pujols’ bat for a 5-4-3 double play with Furcal coming home. A Lance Berkman pop out ended the inning and Milwaukee escaped up 8-6. A Jonathan Lucroy RBI single would get the run back immediately for the Brewers.
Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford held the lead in the eighth and ninth with no trouble as Axford picked up his second postseason save.