Yelich makes Brewers history in win over Cards

Reigning NL MVP has homered in first three games of season

March 31st, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- The question all winter was whether could replicate the production that made him a runaway National League Most Valuable Player Award winner last season. Three games into the new season, it looks like we should have been asking a different question.

Can he be even better?

Yelich became the first player in Brewers history to homer in each of the team’s first three games of a season when he took Cardinals rookie Dakota Hudson deep in the first inning, and and also cleared the fences for a 4-2 win on Saturday at Miller Park, with Josh Hader closing it out with an immaculate inning -- nine pitches, three strikeouts.

If Yelich can extend his season-opening home run streak one more day, he would match the all-time Major League record.

“He's on another planet, man,” said Brandon Woodruff, who earned the win while becoming the first Brewers starter to throw 100 pitches since last August. “He's so special. He's so balanced. He doesn't get fooled much. He's on time with pretty much everything. It's fun to watch.”

Yelich is the 35th player to homer in each of his team’s first three games, but only five players have extended it to four: Trevor Story for the Rockies in 2016, Chris Davis for the Orioles in '13, Nelson Cruz for the Rangers in '11, Mark McGwire for the Cardinals in 1998 and Willie Mays for the Giants in 1971. No player has ever homered in each of his team’s first five games.

Yelich is also the first reigning Most Valuable Player Award winner to homer in his first three games the next season.

Good luck getting him to talk about the numbers, however.

“Like I’ve been saying, every year is a new year,” Yelich said. “You’re not chasing anything or trying to be at certain points or chasing numbers. It’s a fresh start; 2019 is its own season, and you’re focusing in on the present and not thinking about the future or the past. You’re trying to stay locked-in on the day that you‘re a part of.”

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Locked-in is a good way to put it.

“Nothing’s really changed, I guess is what I’d say,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said on Saturday afternoon of Yelich. “He’s been locked in since the first day of Spring Training.”

In fact, Yelich has been locked in since just prior to last year’s All-Star break. Yelich led MLB during the second half of last year’s regular season with a .367 average, a .770 slugging percentage and a 1.219 OPS while belting a NL-leading 25 home runs.

He’s now picked up where he left off, reaching safely in seven of his first nine plate appearances through Saturday’s first-inning home run.

Two innings later, Shaw and Moustakas also took Hudson deep. It was Shaw's first homer of the year and the second for Moustakas, who hit a two-run shot.

“I thought [hitting coach] Andy Haines put together a great game plan for our guys against Hudson,” Counsell said. “There were a bunch of balls hit to the opposite field. He’s good at putting that sinking fastball on the outside corner, and [a hitter has to] not try to pull it. Our lefties did a nice job of that.”

Thirteen of Milwaukee’s first 14 runs this season have scored via home runs. The exception was a sacrifice fly on Friday for Yasmani Grandal, who is still seeking his first Brewers hit.

“I mean, it looks like that’s kind of been our thing around here the last two years,” Yelich said. “I’m sure we’ll be able to manufacture if we have to. You don’t want to totally rely on the home run ball, but you’re not going to be mad if you’re getting them.”

THREE MORE THINGS

• Paul Goldschmidt delivered an RBI single in the third inning for a brief 1-1 tie, but Woodruff and four relievers otherwise held Goldschmidt at bay a day after he slugged three home runs in a Cardinals win. Woodruff navigated five innings (six hits, two earned runs, one walk, five strikeouts) but was at his best in his final frame, striking out Matt Carpenter, Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna while touching 97 mph.

“If I can get the two-seamer going at 92-93 then throw a four-seamer at 97, they're two totally opposite pitches, and I think that helped freeze Goldschmidt,” Woodruff said.

• Alex Wilson made his Brewers debut in a big spot, striking out Goldschmidt with a runner aboard in the seventh before returning for a perfect eighth. He followed Junior Guerra and Alex Claudio in bridging the gap from Woodruff at the start to Hader at the finish.

“That first one is always a weird feeling, especially when you just joined a club eight days ago,” Wilson said. “I’m glad it was in a big spot.”

• Hader finished the night with a flourish, logging the Brewers’ first immaculate inning since Mike Fiers in May 2015. Of his nine pitches, there was one foul ball, one called strike and seven swinging strikes.

“It’s as good an inning as you can have,” Counsell said.