At every juncture during the 4-2 win that secured a three-out-of-four series win for the Brewers over the Miami Marlins Thursday, you could see that the Crew just had more left in their tank than the Wild Card hopefuls from South Florida. They're a deeper, more experienced, smarter team, but in the slanting sunlight and deeper, cooler shadows of September, they also looked like a sharper, fresher one.
That showed up in a few big ways. William Contreras hit a gapper in the fourth inning for a leadoff double, but if Marlins left fielder Bryan De La Cruz had been a bit quicker on his first step toward center field, he could have cut it off. The next batted ball was a fly to De La Cruz, and he caught it, but it was a bit more of a wrestling match than it should have been. De La Cruz ended up catching the routine ball with his feet still moving toward the foul line, but reaching back up to the other side with his gloved left hand. His minute imperfection in technique and position was an opening, and Contreras pressed the unlikely advantage, taking third base (albeit with an ugly, half-accidental dive).
Contreras then scored on a sacrifice fly, erasing the thin lead the Marlins had scratched out in the top of the first inning, before the chilling and obfuscating shadows swept out from behind home plate and made life Hell for hitters for a few frames. If De La Cruz makes either of two plays slightly better, the tally never happens, but Contreras hit the ball sharply enough to beat him in the first case, and he surprised him and won the base with speed in the second.
The Marlins got the lead back in the top of the fifth, but it didn't last. Tyrone Taylor swatted a game-tying double in the bottom of the frame, getting around on an inside fastball from Eury Perez. (Again, De La Cruz was surprisingly late in getting to the ball, costing the Fish 90 feet.) The 20-year-old rookie righthander had beaten the Brewers often with his heater the first time through the order, when he had the benefit of the shadows and of the team's unfamiliarity with his formidable combination of 98-MPH gas and breaking stuff. He was down to 95 and 96 miles per hour by the fourth and fifth, though, and when he tried to go to a more breaking ball-heavy approach, the Crew waited him out. They wore down the young hurler and sat on the pitch they knew was losing its hop.
The decisive moment, as it turned out, came not long after Taylor's double, when Sal Frelick lined a single to right. Jesús Sánchez got there quickly and made a hard, accurate throw. With two outs, Taylor was going home all the way, but he'd just been rounding third when the ball got to Sánchez. In trying to anticipate and leave room to adjust to Taylor's slide, though, catcher Jacob Stallings moved just behind the foul line and the plate to take the ball on a long hop. That was a fatal mistake, and Taylor made Stallings and the Marlins pay. With a late adjustment to slide to the front of the dish, he narrowly avoided Stallings's tag, too slow and too short because he'd had to catch the ball and then lunge back in the direction whence the ball came.
After that, it was just incumbent on the Brewers to hold the lead, and they're experts at that. Adrian Houser gave Craig Counsell five innings, something Perez hadn't quite been able to do for Skip Schumaker. Counsell had fresh arms in his pen, including Joel Payamps, who hadn't pitched in any of the previous three contests in the series. Meanwhile, the Brewers hewed out an insurance run, making things easier for Devin Williams at the end of the day.
Throughout the game, there was just more energy on one side than on the other. The Marlins didn't lack talent or interest; they just couldn't keep up with Milwaukee's tenacity and attention to detail. Both Miami batters and pitchers would get ahead in the count, but then be unable to leverage their edge. Instead, the Brewers whittled it away, and then got the win that really matters. Marlins hitters who jumped ahead 2-0 would ground out yawningly on 2-2. Brewers hitters down 1-2 would work back to a full count, then single cleanly over the head of the infield.
Games like Thursday are why the Brewers will win the NL Central, and why Counsell should be named the NL Manager of the Year after they do. In various ways, and in partnership with a front office that tries to give him as fresh and balanced a roster as possible, Counsell keeps his charges ready to play games like that one, even on a tough afternoon when the other team needs the win worse than the Brewers do and have the starting pitching advantage. The management of the relentless grind of the season is a skill, and while no team is immune to fatigue or to lapses, the Brewers are as consistent in their mastery of that challenge as any club in baseball. By stealing that win, they got materially closer to another proof of that tenet.
Think you could write a story like this? Brewer Fanatic wants you to develop your voice, find an audience, and we'll pay you to do it. Just fill out this form.