SEATTLE — There’s no way to know if switching managers after 47 games will make a difference over the long haul for the Milwaukee Brewers. We don’t have a time machine. But today, in Harvey Kuenn‘s managerial debut, it did.
It’s possible that whether Kuenn or Buck Rodgers managed this team today, the offense would have performed the same. The Brewers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second on an RBI groundout by Ben Oglivie. They increased the lead to two when Marshall Edwards scored on a Little League home run, a triple that led to a run due to a Mariners error. Cecil Cooper made it 3-1 with an RBI single in the sixth, and after the Mariners pulled to within one Cooper added a two-run homer in the eighth.
That’s what you’ll see in the box score. You’ll also see that the Brewers didn’t commit an error in this game, a rarity under Rodgers. But what you won’t see — or might miss — is what happened to Mike Caldwell in the sixth. Or, more precisely, what didn’t happen to him.
Richie Zisk opened the frame with a double to left and Al Cowens followed with a single up the middle to put runners on first and third with no one out in a 3-1 game. Former manager Buck Rodgers was notorious for taking out pitchers early when they got into trouble, often prematurely. He earned the nickname “Captain Hook” as a result.
Caldwell pitched the rest of the game, throwing three hitless innings and retiring nine of 10 batters. He retired 11 of 12 since the two consecutive hits in the sixth.
It was Caldwell’s third complete game of the season and the first time he’s pitched into the ninth since May 8. Yesterday, Rodgers referred to two “cancers” on the team, and many believe one of those players is Caldwell. You cannot underestimate the emotional lift a change in leadership can have on a player like Caldwell.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a new season right now,” said Caldwell. “I’m going to be busting my tail and hoping I can add to what I think is a new team spirit.”
Is today’s game a sign that Harvey will go longer with the starters?
“I would say yes,” he said. “I would say they have to have confidence they can get somebody out in a tough situation. To me, if they’re throwing the ball as well in the eighth inning as when they started, there’s no reason they can’t get the guy out. To me it doesn’t make any difference than if you don’t get the guy out in the second in a tough situation. What difference does it make in the eighth? They wouldn’t be in that situation if they didn’t get them out in the second.”
Follow that? It could be brilliant or it could be gibberish. But today, it worked.
Kuenn continued: “I think Mike was throwing the ball exceptionally well. I think he was throwing as well in the eighth and ninth as he was early in the ball game.”
That’s tough to argue. Through yesterday, the Brewers were a team in disarray, lacking leadership and overflowing with discontent. They were a tight, excitable bunch that lacked execution and accountability. But they were talented.
Today, we saw a new team. We saw a confident team. We saw a team that was loose and able to execute. We saw a complete team.
Will it only last a day? Only time will tell. But this was a good start.
Game Notes: Gorman Thomas‘ shoulder is getting better, and he hit a couple of homers during batting practice. No decision yet on whether he’ll be put on the disabled list … Moose Haas’ elbow tendinitis is well enough to pitch in the June 4 series opener against the A’s … Pitching coach Cal McLish, who has been dealing with health problems, will rejoin the team next week.