NLDS: Tellez’s Homer Gives Brewers a Win Over Atlanta
MILWAUKEE — Corbin Burnes stood alone on the mound on Friday, a triangle of trouble already threatening to swamp the Milwaukee Brewers in a playoff game’s first inning.
Jorge Soler, Atlanta’s leadoff hitter, had converted a 1-2 count into a walk. It had taken nine pitches, including a passed ball, to walk Freddie Freeman and put him and Soler on the corners. Now Atlanta’s No. 3 hitter, Ozzie Albies, swaggered toward the plate after a 30-homer regular season.
Burnes’s cutter had betrayed him through the first two batters of this National League division series. He went back to it anyway. Albies swung and grounded harmlessly toward first. Soler streaked just too slowly toward home to beat a throw from Rowdy Tellez, who had already stepped on first. Four pitches (including just one cutter) later, Atlanta’s menacing, promising start had yielded nothing and Burnes was bound for the Brewers’ dugout.
He would carry a no-hitter into the fifth and exit after the sixth, after striking out six and surrendering two hits and no runs. Tellez did the rest, when, with Avisail Garcia already on base in the seventh, he hammered Charlie Morton’s 95-mile-an-hour fastball some 411 feet and gave Milwaukee the only runs they would need to prevail, 2-1, in Game 1.
“A lot of times, most of the big hits in the postseason, they’re homers,” Brian Snitker, Atlanta’s manager, said. “They hit one and we didn’t.”
Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday in Milwaukee; the best-of-five series will move to Atlanta for up to two games starting on Monday before potentially returning to Milwaukee on Thursday for a final Game 5 showdown.
On Friday, at least, no inning was more pivotal than the very first.
“Postseason baseball is all about momentum,” Burnes said. “When one team gets the momentum going, it’s tough to stop that and it’s tough to kind of turn it around. So Rowdy making that play there obviously gave us the momentum, but it stopped their momentum. They had first and third, nobody out. It could have escalated quickly.”
That the Brewers would win their inaugural postseason matchup against Atlanta by keeping the score low would surprise virtually no one around Milwaukee, where pitching has been a high art this year.
If they wanted to contend, they hardly had a choice. The Milwaukee lineup, even with the former Most Valuable Player Award-winner Christian Yelich, managed a regular-season average that was only good for second-to-last in the N.L. The Brewers also scarcely hit for power, finishing eighth in the N.L. in regular-season home runs.
But Milwaukee’s pitchers tormented rivals, throwing 19 shutouts, the most in the majors, and logging 1,618 strikeouts, also the best in baseball. Bud Selig, the former baseball commissioner and the onetime owner of the Brewers, asserted on Thursday that Milwaukee would advance “as far as pitching takes it.”
Burnes, among the leading candidates for the Cy Young Award, has been the centerpiece — if one who was deeply vulnerable at first on Friday, when, he said, he could only cycle through his pitches in search of something, anything, that could get an out.
He solved his problems faster than Atlanta did its.
“You love to get to a pitcher like that early before he gets settled in, because they get out of an inning like that and things happen like it did,” Snitker said.
Morton, with a fooling curveball and a record of postseason prestige, hardly had a poor showing. Tellez’s home run was one of three hits he allowed on Friday, when he struck out nine over six innings. Atlanta’s mighty offense — the club was one of the most power-prone in the league this season — simply sputtered before a partisan crowd and a series of pitchers who made only fleeting mistakes.
Still, Milwaukee’s offensive impotence gave Atlanta just enough room to make a last stand in the ninth, when it returned to the corners. With two outs already, it proved too late.
Josh Hader, the Milwaukee closer, forced Orlando Arcia, who had been a Brewer until April, into a groundout.
In the stadium’s concourse afterward, a roar swelled, a chant rooted in the first inning and cemented in the seventh, all directed toward a player who had arrived in Milwaukee just in July.