MILWAUKEE -- A bloop, a base hit, and the Brewers’ postseason ticket can be punched any day now.
Lorenzo Cain dunked a tying single into shallow right field with two outs in the eighth inning on Friday before Kolten Wong delivered a go-ahead, two-run single on the way to a come-from-behind, 8-5 win over the Cubs at American Family Field that ensured the ninth season of 90-plus victories in franchise history.
A 10th consecutive win over the Cubs lowered Milwaukee’s magic number to clinch a fourth consecutive postseason berth to two, though the Brewers don’t plan to make much fuss over that formality because they have a division title in their sights. Their magic number to clinch the National League Central is down to four with 15 games to play.
“I think the division is the goal,” Wong said. “Obviously, clinching the playoffs is something you shoot for and that being two games away is huge for us, but we want to get that Central crown.”
It took some two-out magic against Cubs relievers Rowan Wick and Dillon Maples to complete a comeback from a deficit as wide as 4-0 in the middle of the fourth inning. The Brewers scored three runs in the fourth and once in the fifth while leaving five runners on base between those two innings, and they still faced a 5-4 deficit with a runner aboard and two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
When Daniel Vogelbach worked a six-pitch walk -- his third walk of the night -- to push Luis Urías to second base, the rally was on, and it was another instance of the Brewers getting contributions from the deepest reaches of the roster. Pinch-runner Pablo Reyes replaced Vogelbach and raced to third on a Cain single that left his bat at 70.1 mph and dropped 213 feet away in shallow right field, scoring Urías for a 5-5 tie. The Cubs challenged whether Reyes was out at third and came up empty, further extending the inning for Luke Maile’s walk ahead of Wong’s go-ahead hit.
“That’s his favorite hit,” manager Craig Counsell said of Cain’s bloop. “He’s one of the few guys that his favorite hit is dumping a little ball over the second baseman’s head. That’ll put a smile on his face like no other hit.”
It was a departure from Cain’s early at-bats, when he scalded line drives toward the left side of the infield and came up empty both times, including a bases-loaded liner in the fourth that went for an inning-ending double play.
“That’s how it works,” Counsell said. “It’s putting the ball in play and eventually getting rewarded.”
Wong was rewarded all night, collecting three hits to boost his 1.030 OPS against the Cubs this season. Despite two stints on the injured list, he has already matched his career high for doubles (28) and extra-base hits (43).
“He’s had more than just a leadoff hitter’s year for me,” Counsell said. “It’s been impactful. Big hits. Power. Tonight, he just had a great night. Tough at-bats all night tonight.”
And it kept going when Maples took over for Chicago and walked Eduardo Escobar and Christian Yelich to force in another insurance run.
“Those guys picked me up tonight, huge,” said Brewers starter Adrian Houser, who was burned by a walk here, a defensive miscue there, a series of well-placed singles and was out of the game without recording an out in the fifth inning. “I wasn’t able to go out there and do my job the way I wanted to. But they came through. It shows that everybody is there to pick you up. There’s never any let-up or give-up by this team. We’re in there until the last out.”
“It was just a good win,” Counsell said. “We grinded this one out, for sure.”
They have only a few more to go before they can celebrate.
The earliest the Brewers can clinch a postseason spot is Saturday, but it would take another win over the Cubs and losses by both the Padres and Reds. The earliest the Brewers can clinch the division is Sunday, but that would take two Brewers wins and two Cardinals losses this weekend before the Cardinals come to town Monday to start a four-game series.
“That NL Central crown is something we've talked about since Spring Training,” Wong said. “We've believed in each other since Spring Training, even though people were counting us out. This is something we've been pushing for. We've been grinding. The boys want to win it. We all want to clinch it here at home. That's a big thing for us.”