It has been 26 years since the Brewers played in a playoff game. It showed on a rainy field Wednesday night, as the Crew fell to the Phillies 3-1. It was a wake-up call for Brewers' hitters, since apparently someone forgot to tell them it was win or go home.
Phillies ace Cole Hamels spun five innings of no-hit baseball and finished with eight shut-out innings, giving up just two hits. Yet somehow, the Brewers were two plays away from winning the game.
Talk about a playoff debut.
In the postseason, a team’s margin of error decreases considerably, and the Brewers were unprepared to play at that level. In the third inning, after Bill Hall bobbled a bunt from Cole Hamels, and a sure double-play was spoiled, Chase Utley hit a meatball from Yovani Gallardo that fooled Mike Cameron in center.
It turned into a double and a 2-0 lead for the Phillies. Gallardo eventually walked the bases loaded to score the third run, and that was all Hamels and company needed to send the Brewers home losers.
You won’t win too many games when your starter walks five batters in just four innings of work.
Let’s recap: First playoff game in nearly three decades, on the road, battering rain, swirling wind, best defensive player gives up two runs, young ace can’t throw strikes, and you get no-hit through five innings. Brewers players must have wanted to pack it in.
But Milwaukee weathered the storm (pardon the pun).
After Gallardo exited, the Brewers' bullpen pitched five shutout innings, allowing just one hit the rest of the game. While they were completely fooled by Hamels the majority of the afternoon, the Phillies' All-star closer was a completely different story.
Brad Lidge gave up a one-out single to pinch hitter Ray Durham, whom Ryan Braun preceded to double home. After Prince Fielder struck out for the 20th time in the game, J.J. Hardy walked.
Suddenly, a wild pitch had runners at second and third with two outs and the Brewers' best hitter with runners in scoring position at the plate.
Of course, Corey Hart struck out swinging, but one hit in that spot ties the game and the series would have been irrevocably different. With everything that went wrong, the Brewers had a chance to tie or even take the lead with a long ball in the ninth inning.
I told you yesterday that the Brewers would have to manufacture some runs to win the game, which means hitting with men in position. Had the Crew done it there, we might be talking about a team up 1-0, instead of down 0-1.
I don’t believe in moral victories, and you won't hear of that kind of talk from the Brewers' locker room. The adage in baseball has always been the only momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.
Well, the Brewers throw the hottest pitcher in baseball, not to mention a lefty to face a lefty-heavy lineup, while the Phillies throw Brett Myers, coming off a September with a 5.34 ERA, having just gotten torched in his last start for six runs in four innings.
Corey Hart may have said it best when he said, “We basically had to win every game to get here, so we're not going to start feeling the pressure now. We've been under the spotlight for a while.”
No one in Milwaukee is panicking, I can tell you that. This is gravy for the fans and a treat for the players. Make no mistake about it; these guys want to win. It is as competitive a group as you’ll find, because they’re so close. Every player on the Brewers' roster wants to win for the guy playing next to him, and that is why you can’t count this team out.
There aren’t adjustments to be made, or lineup tweaks (except the normally lefty, righty changes the Brewers would make anyway). No motivational speech should energize these guys; they know what is at stake.
Cliché phrases like “they have their backs against the walls,” or “it isn’t a playoff series until the road team wins a game” don’t help anyone.
They know that if they don’t win tomorrow, they face elimination on Saturday. Having waited 26 years to get here, Milwaukee wants this to last as long as possible.
But at least the Cubs lost.