Brewers give Kershaw a rude welcome
Dodgers ace has another rough October outing
For years after he retired as a player, Bob Uecker felt compelled to apologize to legendary Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax every time he saw him, because of something that happened on July 24, 1965.
Then playing – actually, mostly not playing – for the St. Louis Cardinals, Uecker hit one of his 14 career home runs off the great Koufax at Dodger Stadium. Needless to say, folks were dumbfounded.
“For whatever reason, I hit Sandy fairly well,” said Uecker, who posted a career .200 batting average otherwise as a backup catcher. “Every time I see him, I always apologize because I
thought it was going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.”
Of course, the Brewers’ radio icon was joking, flashing his trademark selfdeprecating humor during a media session prior to Game 1 of the NLCS at Miller Park. One thing was certain when the action began Friday night: The Brewers had no intention of apologizing for any home runs off Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw, who has been mentored at times by Koufax.
The Brewers treated Kershaw quite rudely in taking a 6-5 decision over the Dodgers for their 12th consecutive victory. And they weren't the least bit sorry for doing so.
Every time Kershaw takes the mound in the postseason, he is reminded of his subpar record in October: now 8-8, 4.26 earned run average in 26 games (21 starts) after this one. Not exactly the kind of work you’d expect from one of the best pitchers of this era.
Despite that track record, the Brewers expected to have their hands full with Kershaw and the entire Los Angeles starting rotation. In analyzing the teams before the series, many projected the series to boil down to the Dodgers’ starters vs. Milwaukee’s dominant bullpen.
But Kershaw came up small once again, with no help from the Bad News Bears defense playing behind him. Yasmani Grandal, in particular, might want to try out a new mitt after compiling catcher's Yahtzee: two passed balls, catcher's interference and an error.
Kershaw never recorded an out in the fourth inning, departing after a two-run single by pinch-hitter Domingo Santana put the Brewers on top, 4-1, increasing the decibel level inside the domed ballpark to ear-shattering volume.
Both teams entered on late-season surges but none of the Final Four was hotter than the Brewers. They have not lost since Pittsburgh’s Trevor Williams shut them out, 3-0, at PNC Park on Sept. 22, nearly three weeks earlier.
That winning streak placed a different kind of “pressure” on the Brewers. Continuing a tradition that dated back decades, local restaurant chain George Webb promised to give away hamburgers to all customers if the winning streak stretched to 12 games.
“Who knew that we would make it this far and the biggest piece of stress going into this game would be George Webb’s hamburgers?” manager Craig Counsell joked before the game.
George Webb had to pay off on that promise just once previously in the history of the Brewers – in 1987, when the team bolted to a record 13-0 record to open the season. Shortly afterward, the Brewers lost 12 games in a row but the restaurant did not ask for the burgers back.
Counsell, whose father, John, worked in the Brewers’ front office in the '80s, was in the stands at County Stadium on Easter Sunday when the home team rallied from three runs down in the ninth against Texas and emerged with victory No. 12.
“I remember the concept of free hamburgers going back so long, it’s hard to believe that it’s never happened since then,” Counsell said. “It’s something for everybody to talk about for sure. I mean, free hamburgers is free hamburgers. I know you all will be there.”
Now, after local citizens unfairly had to pay for burgers for 31 years, they will be free once again. Ladies and gentlemen, start your condiments. Somewhere, Wimpy weeps.
It certainly didn’t look promising when Manny Machado, the player who got away from the Brewers at the trade deadline, homered in the second inning off Brewers initial out-getter Gio Gonzalez. But many magical things have happened for the Brewers since St. Louis pinch-runner Adolis Garcia tripped and fell rounding third base at Busch Stadium on Sept. 26, allowing Milwaukee to make off with a 2-1 victory that clinched a postseason berth.
The turn of fortune came this time from Brewers rookie righty Brandon Woodruff, who came on in relief of Gonzalez and immediately made an impact – with his bat. Woodruff crushed a third-inning homer off Kershaw to tie the score, becoming only the fourth pitcher ever to take the Dodgers ace deep.
How crazy was that development? Well, Woodruff became the first Brewers pitcher to hit a postseason homer, and just the third relief pitcher ever to do so, joining the New York Giant’s Rosy Ryan in the 1924 World Series and the Cubs’ Travis Wood in the 2016 NLDS.
That’s the kind of stuff you can’t make up. The Brewers got the good vibes going early by sending Uecker out to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, with Counsell doing the catching.
“I was going to take a Percocet and throw it in the upper deck,” said Mr. Baseball. “That would have been good. That would have been good for a laugh.”
But totally unnecessary. Thanks to their team’s play of late, Brewers fans are feeling no pain.
And they're about to eat a whole bunch of free hamburgers.
Brewers Tom Haudricourt Milwaukee Journal Sentinel USA TODAY NETWORK – WIS.
Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw is pulled in the fourth inning. He gave up four runs on six hits.