Strange slug­ger

Los Angeles Times - - PL AYOFFS - BILL SHAIKIN ON BASE­BALL bill.shaikin@la­times.com

Bran­don Woodruff homers and gets the win, Bill Shaikin writes.

MIL­WAU­KEE — He was the ac­ci­den­tal hit­ter.

The Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers are a long way from a pa­rade. But, should the team win seven more games, gen­er­a­tions of Wis­con­sin school­child­ren will cel­e­brate a gen­tle­man named Bran­don Woodruff.

They will read about how this pitcher hit a home run off the finest pitcher of his gen­er­a­tion. They will see how he touched first base, peeked back to take a men­tal snap­shot of the great­est mo­ment of his ca­reer, and let out a pri­mal vic­tory scream.

Miller Park came alive, thanks to a pitcher whom the Brew­ers had dis­patched to the mi­nor leagues six times this sea­son. Woodruff would be the win­ning pitcher. He had tied the score by hit­ting a home run off Clay­ton Ker­shaw. He looked crazed, he sounded crazed, and who the heck cared?

“That was the next level up,” Brew­ers man­ager Craig Coun­sell said. “I’ve never seen Bran­don like that.”

“We had to calm him down a lit­tle bit,” in­fielder Travis Shaw said, “be­cause he had to go back out and pitch.”

He pitched, he hit, he won. The Brew­ers never again trailed af­ter Woodruff went deep, en route to a 6-5 vic­tory in the first game of the Na­tional League Cham­pi­onship Series.

That Ker­shaw would give up an Oc­to­ber home run is not un­usual. He has given up 19, to a most valu­able player (Kris Bryant) and to a light-hit­ting catcher (Jeff Mathis), and even to fu­ture team­mates (Car­los Ruiz and Shane Vic­torino). To a pitcher? Never. And, for only the third time in Ma­jor League Base­ball his­tory, a re­lief pitcher had home­red in a post­sea­son game. Travis Wood did it for the Chicago Cubs two years ago and Rosy Ryan did it for the 1924 New York Giants.

“You don’t know in your wildest dreams that that’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Woodruff said, “to be able to get an at-bat off Ker­shaw and hit a home run.”

The wack­i­est part of the at-bat is that the Brew­ers did not in­tend for it to oc­cur at all.

Gio Gon­za­lez had got­ten the first six outs, un­easily, and the Brew­ers had planned that once through the Dodgers’ lineup would be quite enough for their starter – er, “ini­tial out-get­ter.” As the Brew­ers bat­ted in the bot­tom of the sec­ond, Woodruff warmed up in the bullpen.

In the bot­tom of the sec­ond, they would use an ac­tual hit­ter to bat for Gon­za­lez. In the top of the third, Woodruff would be­come the sec­ond out-get­ter.

That sec­ond in­ning ended one bat­ter shy of the pitcher’s spot. So Woodruff took the mound for the top of the third, and led off against Ker­shaw in the bot­tom of the third.

Woodruff took the first three pitches, all fast­balls, one ball and two strikes. He took the fourth, a trade­mark Ker­shaw curve be­cause, well, he froze.

“He buck­led me pretty bad,” Woodruff said. “I had no chance. I don’t know how I didn’t swing or why I didn’t swing.” Ball two. Said Shaw: “Once he laid off that curve ball, I said, ‘He has a chance.’ ”

Woodruff fig­ured Ker­shaw would go back to the fast­ball, the best chance to avoid the pos­si­bil­ity of run­ning a full count. So, yeah, Woodruff sat on the fast­ball. But, come on, it’s Clay­ton freak­ing Ker­shaw.

“Try­ing to foul it off or put it in play,” Woodruff said, “and just got lucky.”

Fast­ball, foul. An­other fast­ball, gone.

Ker­shaw held his arms wide apart, track­ing the flight of the ball, in ap­par­ent dis­be­lief. Woodruff rounded first base, looked back at the scene and at his dugout, and got so much ex­ten­sion on his fist pump that he risked dis­lo­cat­ing his pitch­ing shoul­der.

“I was just try­ing to look at the whole bench,” he said, “just try­ing to get them fired up.”

He charged around the bases, then de­liv­ered a high-five to Lorenzo Cain so hard that he bent Cain’s hand back­wards.

“He al­most broke my arm,” Cain said,

Woodruff floated his way through a line of dugout con­grat­u­la­tions, gid­dily, un­til Or­lando Ar­cia stag­gered him with a chest bump that would have made a line­backer proud. “Strong,” Ar­cia said with a smile.

The home run was not the first for Woodruff this sea­son. He bat­ted eight times and had one home run, but that came against Pitts­burgh Pi­rates rookie Nick King­ham, who has one fewer most valu­able player award, three fewer Cy Young awards and 148 fewer vic­to­ries than Ker­shaw.

The pitch­ing, of course, is why Woodruff is here. He threw three hit­less in­nings as the Brew­ers’ “ini­tial out-get­ter” in Game 1 of the Divi­sion Series and two more hit­less in­nings on Fri­day.

The Brew­ers are so de­pen­dent on their bullpen use that they could go en­tire games with­out let­ting a pitcher bat. Their pitch­ers got two on Fri­day.

Josh Hader, who does not prac­tice hit­ting, struck out. Woodruff, who does, hit a home run.

“I do not like hit­ting,” Hader said. “That’s why I be­came a pitcher. I couldn’t hit a fast­ball or a curve­ball. I fig­ured out I couldn’t hit a changeup.

“But Woody? He was over here get­ting some swings.”

The Brew­ers, in­deed, have got that swing.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

BREW­ERS re­lief pitcher Bran­don Woodruff is sur­rounded by happy team­mates af­ter his solo home run in the third in­ning off Clay­ton Ker­shaw tied the score at 1-1. With the blast, Woodruff be­came only the third re­liever in post­sea­son his­tory to hit a home run.

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