MILWAUKEE — Christian Yelich’s latest heroics left both managers shaking their heads. It also left the NL wild-card race tighter.
Yelich sliced an opposite-field two-out double off Brandon Kintzler to plate the winning run in the ninth inning as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Saturday night and tightened up the NL wild card race.
Milwaukee pulled within three games of Chicago for the second NL wild card. The Cubs’ lead over Arizona was cut to 1½ games.
“For me, walking away from that game, it is the best game I have ever seen Yelich have,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I know he didn’t hit a home run today, but it was an absolutely spectacular game.”
Yelich laid off a 1-2 changeup in the dirt, and put the next one in the left-field corner.
“He didn’t even flinch at it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the 1-2 pitch. “We were trying to get him to chase outside the zone. He’s kind of other worldly right now.”
Yelich expected the Cubs’ strategy.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be one of those at-bats when they try to get you to expand,” he said. “I was just trying to be ready for a mistake. Really, just stay within your zone, and that’s what happened.”
It was Yelich’ second walkoff hit of the season. The other came March 31st against St. Louis in a 5-4 win.
Counsell doesn’t know what more he could ask of Yelich.
“As an offensive player, he is doing everything that can be done,” Counsell said. “That last at bat is things that MVPs do.”
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Pinch-hitter Tyler Austin reached on shortstop Addison Russell’s throwing error and before Yelich batted, Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy came out to talk with Kintzler (3-3). Whatever was said didn’t work as Yelich had his 500th career RBI.
“When you make mistakes, that’s why he’s so good,” Cubs catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “That’s what he does.”
Yelich walked three times and swiped second each time, extending his career-best to 30 steals. He became the 10th player in major league history with 40 home runs and 30 stolen bases, a feat that’s been accomplished 12 times, the last by Ryan Braun in 2012. Yelich, who has 44 homers, was on in the first, sixth and eighth, getting the record-setting swipe off Rowan Wick.
Brewers reliever Josh Hader (3-5) walked Anthony Rizzo with the bases loaded to force in the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, but Yasmani Grandal lined the first pitch from reliever David Phelps into the Brewers bullpen to tie the game in the bottom of the inning.
Trying to protect a 1-0 lead for Cubs starter Yu Darvish, Kyle Ryan got two quick outs in the sixth before consecutive walks and run-scoring base hit by Ben Gamel tied the game.
Darvish, who was scratched from his scheduled start Sept. 1 due to right forearm tightness, made his team-leading 28th start of the season a good one. He allowed three hits, a walk and seven strikeouts over five innings.
Gio González allowed just two hits over five innings, a harmless base hit and Russell’s ninth home run of the season. He started at short for Javier Báez who is sidelined indefinitely with a hairline fracture in his left thumb.
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“It’s pretty cool,” Yelich said. “I haven’t really thought about it because it hasn’t really been on my radar, but it’s definitely something that’s hard to do, for sure. I’ll probably appreciate it a little more later on.”
The Brewers recalled OF Tyrone Taylor from Triple-A San Antonio. He made his major league debut in the bottom of the seventh when he pinch hit for Freddy Peralta and promptly got hit by a pitch from reliever Steve Cishek.