Home > Uncategorized > Crew’s magic No. at 8 after Braun’s heroics

Crew’s magic No. at 8 after Braun’s heroics

September 13, 2011

MILWAUKEE — You’ll have to forgive Ryan Braun for pumping his fist and jumping in the air as he watched his walk-off home run Tuesday night. He had been having a terrible night.

Before his final at-bat, Braun played what he called his “worst 10 innings of the year.”

Fortunately for him and the Brewers, it didn’t matter. Braun finished that last at-bat with one of his biggest hits of the year, giving the Brewers a 2-1 victory in 11 innings and shrinking their magic number for clinching the National League Central to eight.

“I had some terrible at-bats, I swung at about eight sliders in the dirt, I messed up a play on defense that led to a run for them — just an ugly game,” Braun said. “I definitely didn’t play well offensively or defensively. To find a way to get a big hit right there makes me feel a lot better about the day, and at this point in the season, all that matters is winning. Whether it’s pretty or ugly, it doesn’t really matter.”

Braun was not the only one who didn’t play well for the Brewers, either. Several defensive miscues made things more difficult for the pitching staff than they needed to be, and the offense managed just six hits, only three of which came in the final eight innings.

The Brewers’ poor play of late hasn’t come at the best time.

Although they took the series finale from the Phillies on Sunday, the Crew has struggled over the last two weeks as its National League Central lead dropped to as low as six games over the Cardinals. What once looked like an insurmountable lead at 10 1/2 games had gotten low enough to make the fans in Milwaukee start to worry.

So when Braun crushed a full-count sinker from Matt Lindstrom to left-center field on the 10th pitch of the at-bat, it was a huge weight off his shoulders — and the collective shoulders of the club and its fans as it tries to close out the NL Central race.

“I was definitely excited. It’s fun to play meaningful games this time of year,” Braun said. “Obviously, we understand what’s at stake, and we really haven’t been playing good baseball for the last week or so and the trend kind of continued tonight. But we found a way to win, and for me personally, I had plenty of pent-up aggression before I hit that ball.”

After getting ahead 3-0, Braun took a called strike and fouled off a pitch to work the count full. He then fouled off four more pitches before putting his 28th home run over the fence.

Braun now sits just two home runs away from reaching the 30-homer, 30-steal plateau.

“One of their stars took a [great] at-bat. That’s what this game boils down to,” said Rockies manager Jim Tracy.

“A great player did a great thing in a big-time situation. That’s what it boils down to.”

Before Braun’s home run, it was a battle throughout the night for the Brewers.

High pitch counts early limited Zack Greinke to just five innings, though he allowed just one run on five hits and two walks. Greinke needed 33 pitches to get out of a scoreless first inning and 31 more in the third en route to a 116-pitch outing.

“I came out, maybe trying to do too much in the first inning,” Greinke said. “Trying to set the tone to be like that made it a lot tougher than it probably needed to be.”

A pair of doubles in the fourth inning accounted for the only Rockies run against Greinke, with Seth Smith doubling to lead off the frame and Wilin Rosario driving him in with his one-out double two batters later.

Greinke showed moments of brilliance, including a three-batter fifth inning that featured a pair of called third strikes. Out of 15 outs, Greinke had nine strikeouts.

“We didn’t make some plays behind him, so he had to make extra pitches,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “But I think he really battled well.”

The Brewers finally got on the board in the sixth on Prince Fielder’s 32nd homer, tying the game and keeping Greinke’s home unbeaten streak alive. In 13 starts at Miller Park this season, Greinke is 10-0, and the Brewers have not lost with him on the mound at home.

While Greinke battled to get through five innings, the bullpen was even more impressive over six scoreless innings to close out the ballgame. The bullpen allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out four batters.

Closer John Axford was particularly impressive, pitching both the ninth and 10th for his first multi-inning outing of the season. Axford gave up just one hit with three strikeouts.

“Everyone did a phenomenal job,” Axford said. “For the bullpen to go in and take those innings and do what we could, that’s obviously a huge boost.”

Not only did the bullpen keep the Rockies off the scoreboard, they did so while the Brewers’ offense went four innings without a hit. Between Fielder’s sixth-inning blast and Braun’s walk-off shot in the 11th, the Brewers had just three baserunners, all on walks.

Even with his offense struggling, Roenicke showed faith in the 10th and made a bold move by sending Axford out for a second inning.

Said Roenicke of the move: “We went for it.”

Thanks to Braun, it paid off.

“This time of year, you have to go for it,” Braun said. “When the opportunity’s there, you have to go all in, find a way to win games, take some chances.

“Sometimes good teams find a way to win ugly games and find a way to win games they shouldn’t win. Tonight was definitely one those games.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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