MILWAUKEE — The Brewers came into Game 3 of the ALCS in do-or-die mode. Win, and there’s another day. Lose, and you’re dead. Figuratively speaking, at least.
Don Sutton and The Crew were up to the challenge, as they were in full control of the game from start to finish. Sure, it finished as only a two run margin, a 5-3 Brewers win. Yeah, the Brewers only managed six hits. But there was a positive feel in this one.
Yes, it’s a feel we haven’t had in some time. Control. Most importantly, they had a pitcher on the mound who wasn’t giving an inch, at least until a charitable fan decided to give that inch late.
Up until Friday, Brewers pitchers had repeatedly given up early runs, putting their offense in an immediate hole. An offense that has looked nothing like the Harvey’s Wallbangers of most of the regular season.
But you can’t always count on your offense to score bunches of runs. That is what makes solid starting pitching so important. And that is why Harry Dalton went out and traded for Don Sutton. For games just like the one on the final day of the regular season against the Orioles. And like this one.
Backs against the wall.
Don Sutton is the man, people. He allowed a hit and a walk in the first inning, but not another baserunner until a DeCinces single in the fifth. Prior to the eighth inning, Sutton had only allowed more than one baserunner in an inning once, that opening frame. Yes, Sutton was in supreme control.
The Brewers offense didn’t collect a hit until the fourth inning, but they did so in style. The Brewers hadn’t scored three runs in an inning since that last time Sutton was on the mound. The Crew collected three runs on three hits and a walk in the fourth, breaking through a massive funk at the plate.
Paul Molitor then added the exclamation point, hitting a much-needed two-run homer in the seventh making it 5-0. At the time, it seemed just like piling on. But it turned out to be crucial run production.
The Angels finally figured out Sutton in the bottom of the eighth, with a jump start from the aforementioned fan. Bob Boone led off the inning with a deep fly ball to left. Ben Oglivie headed to the track, leaped, and as the ball was about to enter his glove…
A fan reached over the wall and snagged it. Replays showed it clearly to be the case. It shouldn’t have been a home run, and it was probably going to be an out. Left field umpire Larry Barnett disagreed, however, and that’s all that mattered.
The Angels would score three runs on four hits in the inning, including the leadoff snafu. But by then, it was too late. They weren’t coming back.
Sutton allowed three runs on eight hits and struck out nine in 7 2/3 innings of mound work. He was the stopper the Brewers needed.
“We were shut down for seven innings by one of the best pitchers in baseball in the last 15 years,” said Angels manager Gene Mauch. “He’s very clever… very clever.”
The clever Sutton was relieved by Pete Ladd, who provided a much needed spark from the bullpen. Ladd went the final 1 1/3 innings without allowing a hit, striking out two. Ladd, who blew two late season games with big home runs, has struck out five of the seven batters he’s faced in this series.
“Relief is something that you already better be equipped to handle the pressure and go out there,” said Ladd, “or you might as well stay in the bullpen.”
How things can change for Ladd and this Brewers bullpen. The one thing you can say about this ALCS so far is that the bullpen has not been the problem. While they may not have been dependable as a group ever since Rollie Fingers went down, the bullpen has allowed only one earned run and three hits through 6 1/3 innings pitched.
Are the Brewers back? I think so. I hope so. They have a significant test on Saturday, skipping the struggling Mike Caldwell in the rotation in favor of Moose Haas. He’ll be up against veteran Tommy John, who dominated the Brewers in Game 1.
But the game is at home, and if they tie up the series at two apiece, the Brewers suddenly become favorites in Game 5, in Brew Town as well.
Am I confident? That may be a stretch. But I’ve perked up a bit. Don Sutton and the Brewers gave us a playoff victory, which is somewhat satisfying. And being down 2-1 feels nowhere near as hopeless as 2-0. It also means the Brewers are two home victories from the World Series.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One win at a time. It starts with Moose Haas on Saturday at 3:45 CDT.
What do you think? Do the Brewers have a realistic chance of winning with Moose Haas on the mound?