Counsell's confusing late-game decisions in Pittsburgh Wednesday played a massive role in the Brewers' series defeat to the Pirates. Just three days later, Milwaukee's manager was just as instrumental in the Crew's victory, putting on a masterclass in the Bronx. Like players, managers have bad days--maybe even slumps--that they must bounce back from during a long season. Although he's never won a Manager of the Year Award (a travesty), Saturday's leadership should remind everyone of the edge Counsell gives the Brewers, including in the postseason.
It began in the fourth inning, as Milwaukee's defense (coupled with Wade Miley's loss of command) allowed the Yankees to tie the game 2-2 and load the bases. Though Miley had gotten three separate ground balls that could or should have been outs, his pitch count reached dangerous levels for a hurler who had completed just three and two-thirds innings. With the game tilting in New York's favor and Counsell sensing a chance to escape the frame without further damage, he summoned Elvis Peguero from the bullpen. He would need just three pitches to get D.J. LeMahieu to ground out and end the threat.
That was the type of aggressive, win-today move Counsell has made with tremendous success in past Septembers. It was a difficult call, knowing the club has another 15 consecutive days with a game. He knew that to win the game, he'd need the bullpen to cover at least 16 outs, and that that could throw the pitching staff into scramble mode the rest of the month. Counsell made the tough call, Peguero got out of the jam and tossed a scoreless fifth inning, and the Brewers eventually turned a close game into a blowout.
So why did Counsell choose the bold course? A few reasons:
- He knew if he could keep the game close, the Brewers' bullpen is superior to New York's, meaning Milwaukee had a better chance to pull out the victory in the later innings.
- With Corbin Burnes starting on Sunday, Counsell was comfortable using up several relievers, knowing he likely wouldn't need many guys to throw then--assuming Burnes pitches well.
- Because the Yankees had Gerrit Cole pitching on Sunday, Saturday's game still presented the Brewers with the best chance to win the series, which is the key to winning the NL Central division.
- The Chicago Cubs had already lost, meaning a Brewers' victory would put them four games up in the standings and add pressure on the Cubs to make up another game with one less day remaining on the calendar.
Essentially, all the pros and probabilities of victory backed the attack-mode mentality, and it worked like a charm. Of course, that wasn't Counsell's only solid move.
Rowdy Tellez was due to lead off the top of the seventh inning, with the game still tied at two. New York brought in left-hander Wandy Peralta to open the frame, so Counsell countered with Owen Miller. Though Tellez probably wasn't happy with the move (and Miller ended up striking out), it was the right call. Feelings shouldn't matter at this point, and Counsell played the platoon advantage, hoping to get a couple of guys on to start the inning. Some might have wondered, "Why not Joey Wiemer?" You might need Wiemer as a defensive replacement (which they later did), and Tellez was the DH, so using Miller doesn't hurt your late-game subs.
In the bottom of the seventh, Counsell again went to a high-leverage arm earlier than usual. This time, Joel Payamps took the seventh instead of his regular eighth-inning duties. Why? Because the Yankees had the top of their lineup coming up, with LeMahieu due second, followed by Aaron Judge and Jasson Dominguez. Put in your best available pitcher (other than closer Devin Williams) to face their best hitters instead of waiting for the eighth. Payamps gave up a ground-ball single in an otherwise scoreless frame. It was a perfectly-timed decision by the manager and a well-executed outing by the player. That really was the game right there.
— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) September 9, 2023
The Brewers would strike for three runs in the top of the eighth, partly thanks to another aggressive Counsell move. Up by two with the bases loaded and one out, he sent Victor Caratini to pinch-hit for Miller against a right-handed pitcher. Some managers fear putting in their backup catcher unless it's an emergency, but Counsell knew how valuable that third run would be and that Caratini gave them the better shot. He delivered with a sacrifice fly to go up 5-2, and that was all she wrote. It was a masterful performance by Counsell all game.
In the end, Milwaukee would pull away for a 9-2 win when the outcome was in the balance just two frames before. The tack-on runs also allowed Willams another day of rest, which could be significant for the stretch run.
Counsell's decisions slightly tilted the field Milwaukee's way, as they normally do when he's on his game. He's not perfect, but if the Brewers get the elite version of their manager for the next three weeks and in the playoffs, it could be a really fun autumn.