On a night when Hunter Renfroe notched three hits, including the 500th of his career, and reached base four times, his biggest contribution to the Brewers' 7-0 victory over the Nationals on Friday at American Family Field will show up in the box score as little more than an ordinary outfield assist.
In reality, the play was anything but ordinary.
Moments after Rowdy Tellez broke open a scoreless pitchers' duel with a two-run home run, Nationals left fielder Lane Thomas ripped an 0-1 fastball from Eric Lauer to the base of the wall in center field which, after a hitter-friendly carom, allowed Thomas an easy triple with a chance to score.
Renfroe, though, never lost track of the ball. He charged it, scooped it and rifled a throw back to second baseman Kolten Wong, who turned and relayed it home just in time for catcher Omar Narváez to tag Thomas, preserving the shutout for Lauer.
"I saw it going to the wall and I saw the positioning of the wall so I knew it was going to carom pretty good there," Renfroe said. "I was able to make a beeline to cut it off, make a throw to Kolten, and Kolten made a great throw home.
"The corners [at American Family Field] are inside-the-park [homers] waiting to happen and we're thankful it didn't happen."
Executing such a play is hard enough on its own, but add in the fact that Renfroe, whom the Brewers acquired in a trade from the Red Sox in December, was playing in front of those corners for just the 17th time this season.
So how was he able to make such a difficult play look so effortless? The answer, as with most skills, is practice and repetition with a little bit of theory mixed in for good measure. Though not quite like kids learning the basics of fielding by chucking tennis balls at their garage doors, Renfroe and his fellow outfielders get plenty of chances to learn how the corners play every day during batting practice.
"It happens a lot more than you think it does," Renfroe said. "It happens a lot in BP when we're hitting balls to center field. It ricochets and we're able to see it; not necessarily do it over and over again, but you're able to replay it in your head what it's doing."
Nobody appreciated the execution and effort more than Lauer, who gave up a single to Riley Adams before retiring Victor Robles on a fly ball to center to close out his day.
"My first reaction was, ‘Aww, nuts, that's going to be a double or a triple,’" said Lauer, who bounced back from a rough outing at Miami his last time out to strike out five over seven scoreless innings. "It was a huge momentum shift for us because being able to make two huge relay throws and put the tag on a guy is really hard to do. It was an awesome play, a real pick-me-up."
Reliever Devin Williams made the Brewers' 2-0 lead stand with a scoreless eighth, setting the stage for Josh Hader to potentially handle the ninth inning, with a chance to earn his 15th save in as many chances this season.
Milwaukee's offense, though, gave Hader an extra day to rest by scoring five runs in the eighth, including two on Renfroe's third hit of the day, matching his career high, while giving him 13 hits over his last eight games, including a four-game hitting streak.
"He's swinging the bat well," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He's having good at bats. Got on top of a fastball [in the eighth inning] and hit it the other way. And he hit a curveball the first at-bat. So just solid at bats all night."
Tyrone Taylor broke the game open two batters later with a three-run homer to left-center for his second of the season. Hader watched from the bullpen as Aaron Ashby pitched a perfect ninth to complete the shutout.