ATLANTA -- Christian Yelich will need some time to process 2021 from both a team and an individual standpoint, but he was sure of one thing after watching a Will Smith slider go by for the final out of the Brewers’ season.
“I understand that I have to play better,” Yelich said.
Wearing a weary look on his face after the Brewers’ 5-4 loss to the Braves in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday, Yelich reflected on the sudden end for a team that won 95 games in the regular season. Yelich finished with three singles in 15 at-bats in the NLDS after slashing .248/.362/.373 during the regular season -- the lowest batting average (excluding his .205 average in a shortened 2020 season) and slugging percentage of his career. He hit one home run after Aug. 21.
“I came up in a lot of big spots throughout the year and in the postseason as well, and [I] came up short,” Yelich said. “That's how it goes. It's part of the game. You just have to take it all in, pick yourself up afterwards and keep moving.
“There's good times, there's tough times. I just have to keep going.”
Yelich will be going into the first year of a seven-year contract extension in 2022, a pact signed in March 2020 just days before baseball paused amid the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, Yelich was coming off two monster seasons for the Brewers, including an '18 in which he won the NL MVP Award and a '19 in which he broke his right kneecap in September but still finished runner-up to the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger.
Per the deal, Yelich's annual salary will jump to $26 million beginning next year.
Yelich was asked how long it will take to decompress after the Brewers’ exit.
“It takes a while,” Yelich said. “There's a lot of things going through your mind.”
The Brewers’ offense slumbered beginning in mid-September and could not come alive against a Braves pitching staff led by starters Max Fried and Charlie Morton. In Game 4, Yelich was 1-for-5 with three strikeouts, including a three-pitch at-bat against Smith to end the game.
It was the second marquee matchup between a hitter and a closer in as many innings. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Freddie Freeman connected with a poorly-placed Josh Hader slider and hit a go-ahead home run. In the ninth, with the tying runner on base, Smith threw Yelich three consecutive sliders. Yelich looked at Strike 1, swung at a pitch out of the zone for Strike 2, then looked at Strike 3.
Considering that the Brewers came into the postseason with arguably their best pitching staff, did this exit hurt more than the others?
“I think every year that you get in, you have a great opportunity,” Yelich said. “We just really didn't do enough to take advantage of it. It's a credit to them. They played a great series and made it tough on us. That's why they're moving on.”