Ryan Braun: The Milwaukee Brewers' Natural Leader

Boris YovchevCorrespondent IMay 5, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 17:  Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates his sixth inning three run home run against the New York Mets with teammate Mike Cameron #25 on April 17, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Exactly two weeks ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel came out with an article depicting Ryan Braun's aggravation over the way the Milwaukee Brewers had started the season. 

It happened after a crushing, 4-11 loss to Philadelphia in what was the first game between the two clubs after last year's NL Divisional Playoff Round.

"I don't think it has as much to do with this place as their team. They play well here.  They're a good team," said Braun of the Phillies.  "They're very well-rounded. They have great starting pitching, a great bullpen. They swing the bats well, they play good defense."

"Right now, we're not doing any of those things well. You combine the fact that they're good at everything and we're good at nothing, it's not going to be a very pretty outcome."

After going 5-for-5 with 4 RBI and 2 home runs, the community was split in its reaction to Braun's words. 

Braun himself had struggled until this very game batting for an average of .222 and a single long ball over his team's first 12 games. 

This very fact was a reason enough for the critics to say that he only spoke after having an outstanding night, but had nothing to say on previous nights when he was equally as bad as the rest of his teammates. 

He did not single himself out, however, and was as critical of his own performance as he was of the performance of any one teammate.

"The pitching obviously has been pretty bad but the offense has been pretty bad, the defense has been pretty bad. I don't think we've really done anything well the first 13 games of the season. We've got to find a way to turn it around," said Braun. "Saying 'it's early, there' s no need to panic" -- none of that means anything now. We just need to come out and play better."

Maybe he picked the wrong night to share his feelings, or maybe he did not, but regardless of what people think, the facts speak for themselves. 

The Brewers went 9-1 in their next 10 games, in a much similar fashion to what happened last season after Braun was again critical of the team.  In 2008, the Brewers quickly started piling up wins after Braun called out his teammates and with CC Sabathia joining the troops, the team made the postseason for the first time since 1982.

Whether he chooses the best time, with Braun you can count on one thing—he will say things how they are.

After a 3-9 start which was capped with that 4-11 loss to the Phillies, and a loss in every single series played up to that point in time—the Brewers are now 14-12, climbing to within three games of the surprising the Cardinals, and only a half game back of the Cubs.

And as if it weren't enough that Braun already propelled his team to a very surprising winning streak—surprising based on the generosity Brewers pitchers were showing at the start of the season—last night in Pittsburgh he proved his status as the unanimous leader of the Brewers.

Milwaukee entered the game with a 15-game winning streak against the Pirates on the line.  Ryan Braun was out of the lineup for a second straight game with stiffness in his back, which appeared connected to the intercostal problems the young star had been having since last season.

Not only was Braun not in the lineup, he was also asked to stay in Milwaukee for an MRI.

Down 3-1 at the end of seven innings, the Brewers seemed destined to finally leave the field beaten by the Pirates. The bats were just too quiet for Brewers fans to expect late inning heroics.

That was until Braun casually showed up from nowhere in the locker rooms, told Ken Macha he was ready to go, and asked him to pinch-hit in the eighth inning.  With the bases loaded and one out, Braun came in for Duffy only minutes after arriving at PNC Park.

Just as the Brewers seemed destined to record their first loss to the hands of Pittsburgh in 16 tries, Braun seemed destined to do something big to prevent that from happening.

And he did not disappoint.

A two-RBI double tied the game at 3-3 and awoke the potent Brewers offense, which poured in another four runs in the ninth. 

Braun did not want to make excuses, just as he was not ready to hear excuses from anyone two weeks ago when the Brewers were 3-9. His words after the game prove that.

"I have no problem playing through pain or playing with an injury," said Braun. "It's just a matter of knowing it's not going to be something that will cost me the season. As soon as we found that out, we felt like it was OK to work through a little bit of pain."

While being vocal about his and his teammates' miscues was not a prime example of leadership—even if the Brewers won nine of 10 following Braun's rant—his actions from yesterday served as a way for him to show his teammates that he has their backs. 

He didn't have to say it, but his actions could not be lost in translation. 

The Brewers found themselves a polished leader who is now tied with the club for years to come. 

Job well done, Doug Melvin.


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