The home team started the playoffs without a starting pitcher, by design.
The performance of their starting pitchers had been so spotty this season that the Milwaukee Brewers decided to do away with the position, at least Thursday. Their relief pitchers had been outstanding, so the Brewers simply loaded up on them.
They used six. The arms kept the Brewers afloat until Mike Moustakas delivered the walkoff single in the 10th inning, after the Brewers appeared destined for victory after eight innings and doomed to defeat in the ninth.
“No good for the heart,” Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun said. “No good for the blood pressure.”
Good for a series lead, though, no matter how exhausting the game might have been. As Moustakas rounded first base and disappeared into a sea of teammates, infielder Hernan Perez approached with the Gatorade bucket and turned it upside down. Perez intended to douse Moustakas, but he missed.
All’s well that ends well. The Brewers beat the Colorado Rockies 3-2, taking the first game of this best-of-five division series. The Brewers promised to start an actual starting pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin, in Game 2 on Friday.
Christian Yelich, the presumptive National League most valuable player, walked to start the 10th inning, his fourth time on base. He took second on a wild pitch from Adam Ottavino, took third on a ground ball, and scored the winning run on Moustakas’ single.
“I think we’re OK,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “Pardon my voice. I’m a little hoarse. I think we’re hanging in there.”
The closer the game got to the ninth inning, the better the Brewers felt. The back end of their bullpen was strong and deep.
Four relievers pitched the first eight innings. The Rockies had one hit. The Brewers had a two-run lead. It was time for the ninth inning, and for Jeremy Jeffress to get the final three outs.
He did, but not before the Rockies had tied the score. The first three batters singled and, after an error and sacrifice fly, the score was tied, and the game was headed to extra innings.
“It’s a punch that knocks you back a little bit, right?” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
For Jeffress, an All-Star with a 1.29 ERA, it was the first time this season he had given up three hits.
“It’s baseball. I’m human. I can’t get everybody out,” Jeffress said.
The crowd saluted Yelich with a standing ovation as he came to bat in the first inning. After Yelich hit a 413-foot home run in the third inning, Braun delayed his entrance to the batter’s box, giving his teammate time to take a curtain call if he wished. He did not.
On that January day when they landed Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the team celebrated. The rest of the baseball world thought they had too many outfielders. They shrugged and handed Braun a first baseman’s glove.
“Everyone thought we should be adding a starting pitcher,” Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said, “or two or three.”
They did not, even as spring training dawned with the likes of Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn available.
In July, they added Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop, and the rest of the baseball world thought they had too many infielders.
They did not fret about their starting pitchers. So, after Yelich and Cain led the Brewers to their first playoff berth in seven years, which of their starting pitchers did they choose for the division series opener?
None of them.
The phrase “bullpen day” did not translate here not to “we’re out of starters.” The Brewers’ relievers have the best ERA of any team alive in the NL playoffs, so why not play to the team’s strength?
Counsell said the schedule allows his team the flexibility to run bullpen games in the postseason. The Brewers had two days off before Game 1, with another day off after Game 2, and another day off after Game 4, if the series goes that far.
“During the course of the regular season, you need starting pitching,” Counsell said.
For now? Counsell used the phrase “all hands on deck,” and he did not just mean a top starter pitching in relief in the last game of a postseason series.
“We’re trying to get away from what the word ‘starter’ and ‘reliever’ means,” Counsell said. “That’s how we’re going to get through the postseason.”
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