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October 8, 2011

Playoff Prospectus

NLDS Game Five: Brew Cruisin'

by Derek Carty

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If you didn’t catch tonight’s NLDS finale between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, you missed quite the game.  Framed as a potential pitchers’ duel between Ian Kennedy and Yovanni Gallardo, the two starters didn’t disappoint.  Each went six innings, pitching well enough to maintain the pitchers’ duel pretense but allowing enough action to keep the fans excited—a perfect blend.  The announcers commented during the game that every base hit is a rally in the playoffs, and while that might be a bit of an exaggeration, it definitely felt like it in a back-and-forth game like this.

All was quiet through the first two innings, with little more than a few scattered hits and walks.  Cruising through the third inning as well, Gallardo worked Justin Upton to two strikes and with two outs already in the books.  On a pitch that looked to everyone like strike three, umpire Jeff Kellogg called a ball; several players even started towards the dugout (though PITCHf/x location data is far from perfect, it does appear to have been a strike).  Mere seconds later, Gallardo left one up to Justin Upton, who bashed it over the opposite field fence, drawing heavy boos from the crowd as the Snakes took the first lead of the game.

After a clean bottom of the third, Ian Kennedy looked to be unraveling in the fourth.  After giving up a leadoff double to Nyjer Morgan, he threw a ball in the dirt that got past Miguel Montero, advancing Morgan to third. On his next pitch, he almost struck Ryan Braun in the head but eventually settled for walking him the old fashioned way.  After getting Prince Fielder to pop-up, he revisited the shortcut to putting a runner on and struck Rickie Weeks with first pitch.  He settled in after this, though, but with runners already on, it was too much for him to avoid getting scraped.  On a shallow Jerry Hairston Jr. fly to right, Morgan tagged from third and scored easily-- with Aaron Hill chasing it down and catching it himself, there was no chance of a play at the plate.  Had Justin Upton caught it (he was close to the play), he might have had a play on Morgan.  He didn’t though, and after a harmless grounder to Yuniesky Betancourt, Kennedy managed to get out of the inning.

All remained quiet, for the most part, until the sixth inning, with just a few more scattered hits.  In the top of the sixth, the D’Backs managed to get a two out rallying, positioning runners on second and third, but Gallardo managed to escape.  Kennedy wouldn’t be as lucky in the bottom of the inning, but he did manage once again to come away with a minimal amount of damage.  After a Ryan Braun double and a Prince Fielder walk, Hairston sent one flying to the warning track in deep center.  An amazing Chris Young catch—one for the highlight reels—saved a run and created the second out of the inning without a single runner advancing; Braun surely thought the ball would drop in.  Yuniesky Betancourt managed to come through with an RBI single in the next at-bat, but that’s all the Crew would be able to muster for quite a while.

When manager Ron Roenicke sent Takashi Saito in for the 7th, it seemed like a 2-1 lead might just be enough for the Brewers with an implied Saito/K-Rod/Axford combination closing out the final three frames.  Saito made it through his relatively harmless inning, but K-Rod—in typical K-Rod fashion—made things interesting, loading the bases before getting the final out.  After getting through the two lesser pitchers of Milwaukee’s impressive trio, lockdown closer John Axford entered the game in the ninth having not blown a save since April.  Game over, right?  Not so fast.

Giving up a leadoff double to Gerardo Parra—which I loved to see after pointing out in my recap yesterday how I was sad to see him do nothing in the series—Sean Burroughs soon followed with a blooper into left.  With just a one run lead and runners now on first and third, Axford had to be stressing.  With Willie Bloomquist at the bat, manager Kirk Gibson called for a safety squeeze, which Bloomquist executed perfectly.  Getting tangled up with Axford, Prince Fielder couldn’t get the ball out as Parra crossed for the tying run.  Still having failed to record an out, Axford really dug in to secure three in a row, getting out of the inning having giving up just a single run and only allowing a tie.  When the Brewers couldn’t score in the bottom of the inning, the game was sent to extras.

Surprisingly, Axford came on for the 10th, pitching a much less exciting (but I’m sure a much more satisfying, from his point of view) 1-2-3 inning.  In the bottom of the 10th, it was Arizona’s closer’s turn to sweat.  After Carlos Gomez singled with one out, Nyjer Morgan showed bunt as Gomez took off, and in the confusion, catcher Henry Blanco somehow forgot to catch the ball.  Sailing to the backstop, Gomez took second easily.  Not wanting to walk Morgan and have to get both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder out, Putz went after Morgan with a 94-mph fastball on the outer edge of the plate.  Morgan was ready, though, and ripped a hard grounder up the middle, with the light-footed Gomez scoring easily to send the Brewers to the NLCS.

  • Ian Kennedy showed good stuff tonight and broke three bats.
  • I found it interesting how energetic Nyjer Morgan was throughout the entire game—i.e. waving his hands and getting the crowd riled up when he was on base in the fourth—to the point where the announcers made some cracks about him being an actor and wanting to be the center of attention.  When he delivered the game-winning hit, however, yes, he celebrated his rear-end off, but he declined to be interviewed.  At least TBS managed to grab one of his celebratory f-bombs before they realized he wasn’t trying to talk into the microphone and they should cut away.
  • Jerry Hairston Jr. isn’t known for his hitting ability, but he definitely had a good series, going 6-for-16 with two walks.  Even though he didn’t get a hit tonight, he hit two right on the nose that simply managed to find fielders’ gloves.
  • Despite splitting playing time at shortstop nearly 50/50 with John McDonald after McDonald was acquired in August, Willie Bloomquist started every game of the series, which I think was the right move.
  • Zack Greinke will start Game 1 and a potential Game 5 for the Brewers in the NLCS.  While everyone knows Greinke is good, I believe he’s just as good as Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee and will go a long way in neutralizing them if the Phillies wind up beating the Cardinals tonight to advance.
Related Content:  Nyjer Morgan,  John Axford,  Ian Kennedy,  A-rod

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