MILWAUKEE -- Neither Craig Counsell nor Bud Black pointed to the homer, though the highlight reels certainly will. Both managers instead focused on the finer points of Christian Yelich's all-around performance Thursday, when the National League MVP front-runner excelled in his first game on the postseason stage.
After the Brewers stormed back to grab the lead in the NL Division Series, Black noted Yelich's takes. Counsell cited "the quality of at-bat" Yelich demonstrated over the course of 10 innings. Semantics aside, both skippers meant the same thing: No one player impacted Milwaukee's 3-2 win in 10 innings more than Yelich, who accounted for all three Brewers runs in a variety of ways.
"What a good game," Black said. "His timing looks impeccable. He's on everything."
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Fresh off a second-half surge during which he emerged as one of the best players in baseball, Yelich opened October by reaching base four times, driving in two runs and scoring another. His two-run homer opened the scoring off Antonio Senzatela in the third. Yelich then singled in the sixth and stole a base after walking in the eighth.
But it was his at-bat against Adam Ottavino in the 10th that swung the game in the Brewers' favor for good. Down 0-2 in the count, Yelich worked a leadoff walk and eventually scored on Mike Moustakas' walk-off single. Including the postseason, Yelich became just the seventh of 73 batters to reach base after falling behind 0-2 to Ottavino.
"You're just trying to slow the situation down," Yelich said. "It's loud, the atmosphere there is crazy. And he's got great stuff. He was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball this year. And you're just trying to find a way to make something happen, to put pressure on him."
"He's such a difficult out," Counsell said. "That's been his month of September. Those are his five at-bats in a night or four at-bats in a night that's what they look like. … You saw it again tonight, just the quality at-bat, the quality the at-bat just stands out."
For the Brewers, the collective package has become a familiar sight. For their fans as well. Yelich rounded the bases to "M-V-P" chants from the crowd of 43,382 at Miller Park after tagging a first-pitch changeup from Senzatela in the fourth. The 413-foot homer to left center that followed marked Yelich's 22nd since Aug. 1, after he'd finished the season hitting .335/.434/.728 over the final two months.
Yelich finished with a .326/.402/.598 line and a career-high 36 home runs, becoming the first player in Brewers history to win a batting title and pace the NL in slugging, OPS and total bases. That production has continued as the calendar turned.
"You've got to realize it's the same game," Yelich said. "Obviously, it's higher stakes. There's more eyes watching. The atmosphere is a little bit crazier, but at the end of the day, you're trying to remind yourself and trying to focus on being in the moment, being in the present and not getting consumed with everything around you."
In the history of five-game series with the 2-2-1 format, teams that have won Game 1 at home have gone on to take the series 27 of 36 times (75 percent).