BOSTON — As Rob Peterson noted yesterday in his series preview, this week may be the most important of any for the Milwaukee Brewers franchise. Coming off of two straight losses to the pesky Baltimore Orioles, the division lead has been cut to two games with seven left to play.
Of course, holding on for those seven games will be no picnic. Unless the Orioles are the ants looking to carry away our basket of playoff goodies. The first three will come versus the third place Red Sox and final four against those same Orioles. All on the road.
So it’s clear we’re getting into must-win mode here. At the very least, it’s hold-on-tight-and-close-your-eyes mode. Though Boton’s dead, the Brewers’ bats still needed to come alive to reverse recent misfortunes and build upon their dwindling AL East lead. A 9-3 win tonight at Fenway Park helped some of us open our eyes and watch more comfortably.
No one thought it would be easy. Sending mid-season addition and least accomplished starting pitcher Doc Medich to the mound at Fenway Park didn’t inspire confidence. The top priority coming into this game was to score and score often. Harvey’s boys needed to acquaint themselves regularly with the Fenway walls.
Thankfully, that is exactly what happened. Paul Molitor singled to lead off the game and stepped on the plate moments later after Robin Yount hit a 1-1 pitch from Chuck Rainey onto the light standard overlooking the big screen above the Green Monster.
“Hell, he’s been doing this all year,” Gorman Thomas said of Yount’s performance, “why would he stop now?
“He’s having a great hear. More power to him. I hope he stays as hot as he is the rest of the year. It’s just another feather in his war bonnet. He only has about 150,000 as it is.”
Indeed, Yount is having an MVP-type season. But with two down and two on, Roy Howell — a name rarely mentioned when speaking of this record-breaking offense — came through with a clutch RBI single to give Medich a 3-0 lead before he stepped on the mound.
Given the lead, all Brewers fans asked of Medich was to keep the offense in the game. Pitch six innings and hand the ball over with a chance to earn a victory. It wasn’t pretty (three earned runs on five hits and five walks in six innings), but Doc did what was asked of him.
“I didn’t have good stuff,” Medich told the Boston Globe. “I had to struggle for six innings, but when you get those runs…”
Of course, when fans complain about the inconsistent and often unreliable Brewers pitching, in most cases they are referring to the gaping hole left by the ailing Rollie Fingers. Once considered a seven inning game if the Brewers handed the ball and lead to Fingers, relievers have provided little, well, relief since his absence. A bullpen consisting of Moose Haas, Jim Slaton, Dwight Bernard, Jamie Easterly, Jerry Augustine and Pete Ladd has failed far more often than is acceptable.
The painful realization is that with Fingers, first place in the AL East would be long sewn up by now. Thankfully for the Brewers and their loyal fans, the offense handed Moose Haas a 9-3 lead in the seventh inning.
The Brewers bats were too much for Boston’s pitching on this night. It was an offensive onslaught focused on three innings: Three runs in the first, two in the fourth and four in the sixth. But it was the way they scored that was most impressive.
Sure, they hit their home runs, scoring two on Yount’s first inning homer and three when Simmons hit one out in the sixth. But they also scored two in the fourth when they popped four singles, forcing manager Ralph Houk to remove Rainey and go to his bullpen far earlier than he preferred.
In all, the Brewers offense smacked 17 hits, and the pitching was plenty good enough to win. Haas pitched three scoreless innings in relief, allowing only two hits to the suddenly punchless Red Sox and Fingers was not missed on this night. It was his first save of the season and the second of his career.
Just as important for Brewers fans was the news out of Detroit. A paltry crowd of 7,755 watched their fourth place Tigers come from behind to score the final four runs and beat the Orioles 9-6.
Now the worst case scenario is going into the final four games in Baltimore with a one game lead. Should we still be worried?
“We can’t look at going into Baltimore with a one game lead,” Yount responded, “or things like that. We really have to play them one at a time. They’re all big games. We have to win tomorrow as much as we did tonight.
“But I’ll take a win when Baltimore loses every day of the week.”
With six games to go, the Brewers’ lead in the division is now three games. We can breathe a little more easily. But would it be asking too much to have a five game lead before the Crew gets to Baltimore?
Player of the Game: Time and time again this season, whenever the Brewers need a win, Robin Yount has stepped forward. Tonight, “The Kid” hit a first inning, two-run home run that set the tone for a team losing confidence. Yount had three hits in all, driving in three and scoring two.
Now with 27 home runs, a .331 batting average, 111 RBI and a league leading 202 hits, 45 doubles and .573 slugging percentage, the question must be asked: does Robin Yount have any reasonable competition for the league’s MVP award?
Don’t worry, we’ll answer the question, too. No. Robin should, and will, be M-V-P.