MILWAUKEE -- One of the best pitchers in baseball threw 103 pitches on Sunday. One of them, perhaps the unlikeliest of any of them to cause Brandon Woodruff trouble, was the pitch that ruined his night.
It was an 0-2 fastball to White Sox starter Lance Lynn, who hadn't had a hit since 2017, but managed to punch a two-run single to right field that proved the difference in Chicago’s 3-1 win over Milwaukee at American Family Field.
"I should have thrown a breaking ball,” Woodruff lamented. “I knew he was swinging. I knew he was being aggressive. I mean, that was the game right there."
Brewers hitters had chances to answer against Lynn and the Sox relievers Michael Kopech and Liam Hendriks (who recorded a six-out save), but they went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, including two chances for Christian Yelich, and were denied a three-game series sweep. Milwaukee also missed a chance to add a game onto its lead over second-place Cincinnati in the National League Central standings after the Reds lost earlier Sunday, so the cushion stayed at 6 1/2 games.
"It’s a good team,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the Sox. “That's the biggest thing. This is a really good team. They throw good players out there at every spot. The pitchers that threw in the game are tough. So, we played two really good games. I thought we played a good game tonight, we just were missing a hit and we were facing some really tough pitching.”
Aside from a four-batter, three-hit flurry in the second inning -- culminating with Lynn’s hit for a 3-0 Chicago lead -- Woodruff was stingy himself over seven innings. He allowed two other hits and no other runs, striking out nine and earning his 15th quality start in 20 trips to the mound this season.
Woodruff's 2.14 ERA through 126 innings is the best in Brewers history through a pitcher’s first 20 games in which all of those appearances are starts. Bill Travers had a 2.24 ERA after 20 starts in 1976. After that, it’s Jeff D’Amico’s 2.41 ERA at that point in 2000, and Ben Sheets’ 2.45 ERA in '04.
“I basically came in after that [three-run] inning and just reset,” Woodruff said. “I told myself they weren’t going to get any more runs.”
It was an unlikely rally that produced those runs. After erasing Yoán Moncada's leadoff single by getting Andrew Vaughn to ground into a double play, Woodruff had two outs and the bases empty. As of that moment, opposing hitters were 24-for-135 (.178) with 52 strikeouts against Woodruff in two-out at-bats this season. Going into the night, opponents were 19-for-150 (.127) with 78 strikeouts in at-bats that ended with Woodruff’s four-seam fastball.
The White Sox, however, bucked the numbers. Brian Goodwin kept the inning alive with a walk, and Leury García singled on an 0-1 fastball. Then, No. 8 hitter Seby Zavala, Chicago’s backup catcher with Yasmani Grandal on the injured list, singled home a run on a first-pitch curveball.
Still, Woodruff had a chance to get out of the jam when Lynn stepped to the plate hitless since his final game with the Cardinals in 2017, and having not put a ball in play since '18. He was 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in occasional at-bats in Interleague play while pitching for the Twins, Yankees and Rangers in 2018 and ‘19. He didn’t bat in ‘20 because the universal DH was employed, and he had yet to take an at-bat for the White Sox this season.
Woodruff threw three straight four-seam fastballs. The 0-2 pitch was right down the middle, and Lynn got enough of the barrel on it to line a single to right field for two more runs and a 3-0 Chicago lead.
Woodruff called it “a learning moment.”
“That one hurts, because in the back of my mind, I should have stepped off, collected myself and thrown a breaking ball there, just to bury one,” Woodruff said. “I didn’t do it. I’ll take all the [blame] for that. It wasn’t a smart move by me.”
Added Counsell: “When a pitcher gets a hit, you're always kicking yourself. … The rest, I thought, was just really, really good. As good as we've seen him."