Corbin Burnes will take the Busch Stadium mound on Thursday trying to do what Jeff D’Amico could not do two decades ago: Finish strong in a bid to become the first Brewers pitcher ever to win the league ERA title.
Burnes has a 1.77 ERA, which puts him in second place in the National League behind the Reds' Trevor Bauer, who lowered his mark to 1.73 after an eight-inning, one-run gem against Milwaukee on Wednesday. Burnes is ahead of the Padres’ Dinelson Lamet (2.07), the Mets’ Jacob deGrom (2.14) and the Braves' Max Fried (2.25), who made his final regular-season start on Wednesday. Lamet and deGrom will each pitch once more.
But Burnes insisted he had a bigger prize in mind: a playoff berth. And he didn’t plan to change anything going into a start in which everything from personal accolades to team goals are on the line.
“Just because it’s the last outing of the year doesn’t mean we’re going to go out there and change what we’ve been doing and the way we approached the game,” Burnes said. “The way we’re going to go out and attack the Cardinals is going to be the same as how we approach the entire season. I just faced these guys a couple of starts ago, and with a pretty important series … we really need to win every game.”
Burnes needs to complete at least four innings to reach 60 innings this season, the mark -- one inning per team game -- required to qualify for the ERA title.
When D’Amico faced a similar opportunity on Sept. 28, 2000, it was also the final Thursday of the regular season -- and the final game ever at County Stadium. D’Amico took a tightly-wrapped left ankle and a 2.42 ERA to the mound to finish his own breakthrough season, entering that start neck-and-neck for the National League's best ERA with the D-backs’ Randy Johnson, who was at 2.38 with one start to go. D’Amico would have to overcome a partially torn tendon in his ankle that was suffered, it was said, while running in the outfield prior to the previous day’s game.
It did not go well. D’Amico allowed 10 hits and six earned runs in six innings of an 8-1 loss to the Reds. His ERA rose to 2.66, and he finished third behind Johnson, who also faltered in his final start, and the Dodgers’ Kevin Brown, who took the title.
All these years later, former Brewers Richie Sexson and Geoff Jenkins figure it’s safe to tell the real story. They remember D’Amico getting hurt when Sexson, Jenkins, D’Amico and Jeromy Burnitz snuck to the top of Bernie Brewer’s Chalet at the old stadium for one last trip down Bernie’s slide into a big beer mug. D’Amico, Sexson said, was the last to go.
“I remember thinking about how hard it would be to explain to the organization that we ruined the ERA title because our pitcher sprained his ankle on the slide,” Sexson said. “It didn’t sideline him, but he had quite a bit of tape on that sucker. I think we kept that one under wraps, but now we can get it out there, I think.”
“That happened,” Jenkins said. “I remember him hurting his ankle and we were all thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ Because we were already thin on pitching as it was.”
Jenkins, who still follows the Brewers on a daily basis, is pleased to know Burnes will walk to the mound Thursday on two healthy legs.
“It’s exciting stuff for Corbin,” Jenkins said, “in terms of being a guy who was on the periphery of, ‘Is this a bullpen guy, or is this someone we can trust to control that cutter/slider/sinker combination for the whole game?’ I’m sure the coaching staff had plans to make him a starter, but I’m proud of him for stepping up, for having the trust and belief in his secondary stuff.”
• Brewers closer Josh Hader credits a mechanical adjustment for his improved velocity in recent outings, saying, “I felt like I was starting to get a little bit relaxed in my mechanics, where I wasn’t able to pre-load that coil, I guess you could say. Something super minor. But just being able to get my legs more activated and into my delivery.” The adjustment produced a season-best 95.8 mph average fastball while Hader closed Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Reds.
• Ryan Braun was out of Wednesday’s lineup as a protective measure, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, as the club tries to get as much production as possible from a veteran player dealing with a bad back. The hope is that Braun will be able to play some outfield in the Cardinals series, allowing Daniel Vogelbach to stay in the lineup as the designated hitter.
The bubble has begun
Wednesday was the day that players and executives went into quasi-quarantine in hotels ahead of potential postseason play. For most of the Brewers, it did not change anything, since the team is already in the midst of a road trip.
But it did impact the extra men on a list of 40 submitted earlier this week to MLB for purposes of constructing postseason rosters. With the alternate training site closed, those players, including outfielder Keon Broxton, according to his social media, moved down to Milwaukee and will work out daily at Miller Park.
“It’s not, frankly, a good situation for them, as far as staying baseball game-ready,” Counsell said. “They’re just going to have to do the best that they can. They will do some ‘live’ stuff, which is not that different from what they have been doing. This is not just the Brewers, this is every team.”