MILWAUKEE -- There were two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game when Cardinals pinch-hitter Jose Martinez made loud contact with Josh Hader's 21st consecutive fastball. As the baseball sailed out toward right-center field and a sellout crowd at Miller Park held its breath, Brewers manager Craig Counsell
MILWAUKEE -- There were two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game when Cardinals pinch-hitter Jose Martinez made loud contact with Josh Hader's 21st consecutive fastball. As the baseball sailed out toward right-center field and a sellout crowd at Miller Park held its breath, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said something like, “Oh, no.” His precise reaction is not fit for print.
“I said a bad word. I did,” said Counsell. “I hope the kids don’t see it.”
Out in center field, Lorenzo Cain had a different take.
In one of the most entertaining of their 50 Opening Day games since the franchise moved to Milwaukee, Cain made a leaping catch to rob Martinez of what would have been a tying home run. It provided a thrilling finish to the Brewers’ 5-4 win over the Cardinals on Thursday afternoon in front of 45,304 fans.
For all of the Spring Training talk about “new year, new team,” the Brewers’ opening victory felt a lot like their eight straight wins to close the regular season a year ago. Mike Moustakas and Christian Yelich homered to bring Milwaukee back from an early three-run deficit. Jhoulys Chacín was sharp over 5 1/3 innings, aside from two misplaced fastballs. And Hader was flat-out electric, generating 11 swinging strikes and 15 total strikes in 21 pitches without throwing a breaking ball. The only surprise was Chacin’s fifth-inning solo homer off Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas -- the first home run by a Brewers pitcher in an Opening Day game.
• Reigning NL MVP Yelich doesn't waste any time
The game came down to Cain’s chase of Martinez’s deep fly ball. Martinez didn’t initially believe he got enough of the ball to send it out. Neither did Hader. But the baseball kept carrying. Balls hit with Martinez's combination of exit velocity and launch angle went for a homer 62 percent of the time under Statcast tracking data from 2015-18.
“I was on the top step yelling,” said Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, who homered twice before yielding to the right-handed pinch-hitter Martinez in the ninth. “I thought he had it. When you hit a ball like that off Hader, usually with how hard he’s throwing, the ball is going to travel pretty far. It was one of those things where he hit it and we all thought it was gone. [Cain] made a hell of a play.”
“I couldn’t tell off the bat, but I was running over there and I could tell it was going to be close,” said Yelich, who had a perfect view from his position in right field. “[Cain] does such a good job of tracking that ball and finding that wall. It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
Said Cain: “I'm talking to the baseball out there, telling it to come down so I could have a chance to make a play. I timed it well and I was able to bring it back.”
When he came down with the game-ending catch after sprinting 101 feet, Cain let out his trademark yell after a defensive gem -- “Not today!" -- and flung the baseball skyward.
It eventually settled in second baseman Mike Moustakas’ glove. Moustakas gave it to an MLB authenticator.
“Every time he does it, it’s still surprising to me,” said Moustakas, Cain’s old teammate from Kansas City. “That was incredible. And every time he does it, it was the best catch I’ve ever seen.”
Cain’s grass-stained jersey was evidence of an earlier effort. His diving catch of Marcell Ozuna’s fly ball leading off the fourth inning was a four-star play, according to Statcast.
Last year, Cain led MLB with 16 catches rated four or five stars. He also tied Boston’s Mookie Betts for the MLB lead among outfielders with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.
“He’s unbelievable, he really is. He’s a gamer and I love playing with him,” Yelich said. “I think we all thought he was deserving to have won [a Gold Glove Award] last year. But the thing about Lo Cain is he doesn’t care about those things.”
To the contrary, Cain was a bit bothered that Atlanta's Ender Inciarte won the award for NL center fielders in November.
“That's something that I've been wanting for a while now and it stings a little bit that I haven't won one yet,” Cain said. “I feel like I've put in the work and I’ve done the things I needed to do to win one, but it is what it is. Maybe if I save 50 runs this year, I'll have a chance.”
Cain’s catch sealed a six-up, six-down season debut for Hader, who is vitally important to a Brewers team navigating a tough early-season schedule while its top two right-handed relievers, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel, are on the injured list.
“That’s a great way to start the year,” Yelich said. “That game had a little bit of everything in it. I don’t know if there’s been an ending like that on Opening Day. That gave our team a jolt a little bit.”
“This game showed us we still have that magic,” said Chacin.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.