ATLANTA -- With each passing day of the National League Division Series, the conversations within the Brewers' clubhouse regarding how each pitcher would be used grew more intense and often complex.
Starter Adrian Houser accepted a crucial role out of the bullpen in Games 1 and 3 against Atlanta. Freddy Peralta was understanding when he was pulled after four scoreless innings in favor of a pinch-hit opportunity in Game 3. Corbin Burnes floated around the idea of trying to make himself ready for the Brewers’ last hope on Tuesday on short rest, though his body did not respond well enough from his victory in Game 1.
“It was kind of a no-brainer for me at that point,” Woodruff said. “I said I would be available.”
Woodruff was indeed needed, entering with two outs in the sixth inning and getting through the seventh. He took just 12 pitches to record his four outs, and he could have possibly done so on even fewer had he and Rowdy Tellez not miscommunicated on a harmless popup. Woodruff stabilized the Brewers’ bullpen, after Aaron Ashby, bitten by some bad luck, allowed the Braves to tie the game with a two-run fifth inning. Woodruff “gave us a shot,” as manager Craig Counsell put it, to keep the season alive.
And Woodruff did it all on just two days of rest since his start in Game 2.
“What he did was heroic, frankly,” Counsell said. “Pretty incredible what he did tonight.”
So follows the tenor of Woodruff’s career, and especially that of his postseason lore. From when he stormed onto the scene with three scoreless innings in a spot start that opened the Brewers’ deep 2018 run, to pitching on short rest in Game 7 of that year’s NL Championship Series, Woodruff has been the pitcher Milwaukee has turned to in the club's most important moments in recent postseason history.
And he wouldn’t have that status any other way.
“It's win or go home. You have to be available,” Woodruff said. “I felt good enough to go out there and try to help in any way possible. And that was just my only thinking. When it comes down to this part of the year, you just try to do whatever you can to help out.”
But why Woodruff? There was some thought, after the Brewers delayed announcing Tuesday’s starter (Eric Lauer), that Burnes might have been their ultimate starter. But Burnes, an NL Cy Young Award hopeful, talked with Counsell and Brewers brass on Tuesday morning and decided that he did not feel fully recovered from his Game 1 start on Friday to be available in a 100 percent capacity on Tuesday.
So the Brewers turned to their second of three Cy Young Award candidates instead, coming out of the bullpen for the first time this season (and in the middle of an inning at that), to extend their season. Woodruff would have been used for only two innings, and they were running out of options.
“We had to go to him there,” Counsell said.
And Woodruff responded by keeping his offense, which scored just six runs across the four-game series, a swing away from possibly flying back home for Game 5 on Thursday instead of to an offseason of self-evaluation. Milwaukee’s pitching staff only conceded 12 runs in the four games, but its members acknowledged the little margin of error they were pitching under.
And that’s part of what pains the Brewers as their 2021 campaign, 95 wins and a NL Central division crown in all, comes to a screeching halt. They don’t feel they left much on the table from a pitching standpoint -- physically, results-wise and emotionally. From the start of the year -- with young pitchers stepping forward, older pitchers stepping into elevated roles and journeymen stepping up -- they felt they had the makings of a World Series pitching staff.
“But that's the thing about baseball,” said Josh Hader, who took the loss on Freddie Freeman’s game-winning home run. “Sometimes it doesn't go our way, but the way we look back on it, you can't be more proud of all these guys.”