Yelich slugs Tigers, pushes Brewers into first-place tie
Milwaukee — The eighth-largest crowd in Miller Park history came to party.
The N.L. Central-leading Cubs lost earlier in the day, so if the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Tigers Saturday night, they would move into a share of first place going into the final day of the regular season. The place was electric.
And the Tigers weren’t giving anything away.
The game was tied at 5 when Christian Yelich came to the plate against Tigers lefty Daniel Stumpf in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Go back to the bottom of the sixth.
Stumpf, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances, was summoned with the go-ahead run at second base. He struck out Domingo Santana and Lorenzo Cain, both with well-placed sliders, then threw a massive fist-pump as an exclamation point as he walked off the mound.
But he had to get Yelich — a left-handed hitter who had already hit a two-run homer off left-hander Daniel Norris earlier in the game — in the seventh to finish his night.
Yelich, a leading MVP candidate in the National League, put the crowd into a frenzy, sending an 0-1 slider into the right-field seats and the Brewers would walk off the field in a first-place tie after beating the Tigers, 6-5.
"He got it up," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If he gets it down, who knows? But he hung that slider up there and we had a pretty good look at it — NASA called. That ball was one of the hardest ones I've seen hit."
Gardenhire shared his NASA line with Stumpf afterward and even got him to laugh.
"I just went with what was working today," said Stumpf, who hadn't allowed a run in 14 straight outings. "I was throwing good (sliders) all night. I struck out two guys on exactly that same pitch, where it did exactly what I wanted to out of my hand.
"That one I didn't get on top of enough. I got on the side of it and it spun out. That one didn't go in my favor."
Yelich, who came in hitting .322, has 36 home runs and 109 RBIs. He has a shot at winning the Triple Crown, trailing only in the RBI category.
The Tigers have one more chance to consign the Brewers to the wild-card game and they are having a lot of fun blocking their way.
"This is a playoff team in a playoff atmosphere with a completely stacked lineup over there and we are coming in and competing every night," Stumpf said. "I think that shows a lot about our team.
"A lot of people discredited us from the start, but we're in here competing against a team in the playoff hunt, and we're just one hit or out away from winning a game."
This was the 52nd one-run game the Tigers have played this season and they've only won 22 of them. But experience, especially from playing in front of 45,520 screaming people against a team throwing everything they have at you, is invaluable for these young Tigers.
"These are some of the things they need to see," Gardenhire said. "To see what this is like and it will make you hungry to get back. We'd love to see us have this at home and have our fans be like that.
"This was good to see."
The game followed a very similar script.
As they did Friday, the Brewers scored five straight runs and erased a 3-0 deficit. And the Tigers, as they did Friday, battled back to tie the score.
Nick Castellanos belted his 23rd home run of the season in the fifth inning to cut it to 5-4. And in the sixth, Dawel Lugo led off with his first career triple, shooting one into the gap in right-center field. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Pete Kozma.
The Tigers missed re-establishing a three-run lead by a couple of feet in that sixth inning. Jeimer Candelario singled with two outs. He stole second and went to third when the throw from catcher Erik Kratz went into center field.
After JaCoby Jones walked, Castellanos hit a fly ball to the wall in right field. Yelich went back and caught it.
The Tigers threatened no more.
First, a couple of former Tigers — Joakim Soria and Corey Knebel — got six straight outs in the seventh and eighth. Knebel struck out six straight Tigers over the last two nights.
Then the crowd stood and cheered the entire ninth inning as closer Jeremy Jeffress struck out Candelario, Jones and Castellanos.
That's shutting the door with authority — nine straight outs, six straight punch-outs.
Tigers starter Norris didn’t survive the fifth inning, but with his six starts in September after groin surgery in May, he has re-established himself as part of the Tigers rotation going forward.
He struck out a season-high eight, getting six swings and misses and five called strikes on a fastball that averaged 90 mph.
"This was the best I felt all year — spring training, April, since I've come back from surgery," Norris said. "I finally felt free, like my body was in sync a little bit. I think it's coming back.
"This was definitely a step in the right direction."
He might have deserved a better fate, results-wise, too.
The Tigers spotted Norris a 3-0 lead and he posted five strikeouts the first time through the Brewers lineup. But Yelich got him in the third inning. With a full count, Norris hung a slider over the plate that Yelich just missed and fouled straight back.
Norris followed that with a fastball up in the zone. Yelich didn’t miss that one. He put it in the right field seats, a two-run homer.
"Yelich is having a great year and he's a great hitter," Norris said. "I don't hate the pitch I made. The pitch that sticks with me is the one to (Erik) Kratz. I just didn't bury it."
That came in a three-run fourth inning. The Brewers rapped four straight hits, including an RBI double by Jonathan Schoop and a two-run single by No. 8 hitter Kratz. Norris, in hindsight, thought he maybe should have just thrown the 3-2 pitch to Kratz out of the strike zone and if he didn't chase it, he could deal with the pitcher up next.
As it turned out, Kratz hit a ground ball to the left of third baseman Jeimer Candelario that should've been a force out or maybe a double-play ball.
"If we catch the damn ball at third base, everything is fine," Gardenhire said. "That ball is right there. It's a catch-able ball. Those are the plays we need to make. The ball is right there. He just didn't move good on it and it's by him."
The Tigers have been working with Candelario on his set-up. He has a tendency to stand too upright and has trouble getting down on balls quick enough.
"We got Kratz to do exactly what we wanted him to do," Gardenhire said. "It's too bad. That's a ball Candy's got to catch. He stood up again and that's what we've been telling him.
"He's a work-in-progress, too. He works his tail off. Hopefully he is going to get to the point where he makes those plays."
Niko Goodrum was responsible for the early 3-0 lead. He singled in a run in the first inning and tripled in a pair of runs in the fifth.