Brewers ride strengths, surprises to NLCS
Some defy expectations, while others perform predictably
MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers advanced to the National League Championship Series on the strength of a unique blend -- the totally predictable and the largely unexpected.
A 3-2, 10-inning thriller Friday over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 5 of this Division Series put the Brewers into the NLCS. Part of this victory was built on elements that were predictable parts of Brewer victories. But part of this victory stemmed from occurrences that qualified as far from the norm.
Looking at their Game 5 matchup, optimism reigned because the Brewers were playing at Miller Park, and because their ace, Yovani Gallardo, was starting for them.
This season, the Brewers were the Major Leagues' best team at home at 57-24. And now they're 3-0 at home in the postseason. That part worked.
Gallardo, too, was successful. He did not have the kind of precise command he had in Game 1, when he dominated the D-backs. But here, he battled and made pitches when he had to, holding Arizona to one run in six innings and leaving with a 2-1 lead.
The Brewers had taken that lead in the sixth inning on a single by shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Now we have clearly moved into the unexpected category.
Further down that same road, the Brewers took that 2-1 lead into the ninth, which meant that this was time for John Axford to record his 45th consecutive save. You could chalk it up. Except that you couldn't.
Axford gave up a run. The game was tied. Some clubs, seeing their automatic closer turn human, might have taken a serious emotional downturn. The Brewers did not.
"It's the same thing with our club, they fought this way all year long," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "They don't quit. They keep getting after it. And it has a lot to do with the makeup of the club. They're a bunch of guys that are dedicated to win at all costs, and I think you saw that in the game today."
Axford regrouped and pitched a spotless 10th. With one out in the Brewers' 10th, Carlos Gomez singled sharply. He had come into the game in the eighth as a defensive replacement in center, with Nyjer Morgan moving to right, a fairly typical move for Roenicke with a late-inning lead. So "Gomey," as he is known on this club, comes in for defense. Then he provides vital offense.
"Gomey, you're right, we put him in for defense, and he ends up offensively helping you," Roenicke said with a smile.
Gomez stole second, just like you knew he would. His speed cannot be overstated. Then Morgan delivered the game-winning, series-winning, walk-off single to center, as Gomez raced home from second at the outside limits of human speed.
The Morgan contribution was not surprising. He, and his alter egos, have become staples of the Milwaukee club, in the clubhouse and on the field. Yes, he offers a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. But there is also the matter of his tangible contribution. When he hit the game-winner, he was Tony Plush, although there was sentiment elsewhere for Tony Clutch.
"That was T. Plush, man, that was T. Plush all the way," Morgan said. "Just doing a little tickling to the outfield."
This might have been a surprise to some of Morgan's former employers, who perceived him to be more trouble than he was worth. But anybody who has watched him play this season in Milwaukee gets the picture. He can play. He can help.
"All my haters, I just wanted to show them that I can play this game," Morgan said. "Even though I've got a fun, bubbly personality and everything like that, I still come to win. And I'm a winner."
Earlier in the season, Morgan's rise looked like Gomez's demise. With an unacceptably low on-base percentage, all of Gomez's tools had become secondary. He wasn't getting it done. His role on the club dwindled as Morgan moved into a regular role in center. When Gomez began to get it together in a part-time role, he fractured his left clavicle making a diving catch on July 20, at Arizona, ironically enough.
When Gomez returned, Roenicke found a role for him, starting in center against left-handers and as a late-inning defensive replacement. Roenicke considers Gomez to be as good defensively as any center fielder in the game. Gomez has responded by playing exactly that way. He wants to be a starting center fielder. His impressive skills indicate that if he ever formed a complete knowledge of the strike zone and became a more selective hitter, he could be that and more. But here, he has settled successfully into a secondary role.
Friday, that secondary role turned into a starring role.
"I'm the kind of guy, I like to win -- I love winning, I don't like [losing]," Gomez said. "I [didn't] feel comfortable with myself, because I got an opportunity to play every day and I started the season really struggling. Nyj did a really good job against righties and [had] some time to play, and he [kept] playing, and I play against lefties. And I take it that way and come here every day today like I'm going to start a game.
"I do a great job against lefties, and Nyj does a great job against righties. And that's my job. And that makes the team stronger."
And so the Brewers won a postseason series for the first time in 29 years. We're a long way from that 1982 American League pennant-winning group. There were stars aplenty on the club, including four future Hall of Famers -- Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Don Sutton and Rollie Fingers, although Fingers was out for the postseason with an injury.
When the Brewers won this 2011 NLDS, the big guys at the end for Milwaukee were "Gomey" and "Tony Plush." Not exactly Robin and Paulie in the annals of the game, but the current pair has carved out a spacious place in the hearts of Brewers fans.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.