It certainly seemed as though the Milwaukee Brewers’ season ended on Sept. 10, the night Christian Yelich, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, fouled a pitch off his right kneecap and sustained a season-ending injury. At least as far as the team’s chances of returning to the playoffs went.
Yelich’s teammates didn’t get that memo.
The Brewers, remarkably, won that game, then 13 of the next 15 without their best player. That run was part of a 19-4 streak in September that enabled the Crew — managed by Whitefish Bay High School graduate, lifelong Brewers fan and former Brewers player Craig Counsell — to clinch a playoff berth. It’s only the second time in team history that the Brewers have made it to the postseason in consecutive years, the other being 1981-82.
Of course, as you read this, Tuesday night’s loss to the Washington Nationals in the Wild Card Game still stings. For older fans of the Crew the image of Josh Hader, the Brewers’ All-Star closer, unable to hold a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning will take its place alongside the St. Louis Cardinals spraying Brewers pitches all over the old Busch Stadium AstroTurf in the 1982 World Series.
Brewers fans would much rather be thinking about their team playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Division Series, instead of pondering the kind of all-winter-long questions the diehard supporters are left with: “Why did Counsell bring Hader in to pitch the eighth inning? Why not save him until the ninth?” And then, the question with no easy answer: “Would that have made a difference?”
We suggest putting those questions aside and thinking about your answer to this one:
When you saw Yelich writhing in pain at home plate in Miami on Sept. 10, did you think there was any possibility that you’d be watching the Brewers in a playoff game three weeks later?
Only the most wildly optimistic Brewers fan can answer “yes” to that question.
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We wonder how Tuesday’s game would have been different with Yelich in right field instead of Trent Grisham. (Take it easy on Grisham, by the way. The ball took a funny hop in the Nationals Park outfield, and two of those eighth-inning runs by the Nationals were going to score even if he fielded the ball cleanly.)
It was remarkable that the team, without Yelich, was able to pull it together and qualify for the postseason.
But it’s worth noting that even with Yelich having another MVP-worthy season, the Brewers hovered near a .500 winning percentage for much of the summer: They were 48-47 on July 15, 57-56 on Aug. 4, and 64-62 on Aug. 20. If they had won a few more of those hot-weather games, the Brewers would not have played on Tuesday night … because they would have edged out the Cardinals, won the National League Central Division and would have been waiting to begin postseason play later in the week.
“So it’s going to sting, as it should, as we expect,” Counsell said after the loss to the Nationals. “But I still get left with just how we accomplished what we did. And I think we should be proud of that. And we did it together. That’s how we did it.”
It was a September to remember for the Brew Crew and their fans.
We’re sure that, when the team gathers in Arizona for spring training, Counsell will remind his players that the games in April and June and August are no less important than the ones after Labor Day.
“But I still get left with just how we accomplished what we did. And I think we should be proud of that. And we did it together. That’s how we did it.” Craig Counsell, Brewers manager