MILWAUKEE -- It was all about cobbling together 27 outs, manager Craig Counsell said before the Brewers bullpenned their way through Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Rockies on Thursday.
In the end, they would need three outs more.
A two-run lead slipped away from the recently reliable Jeremy Jeffress in the top of the ninth inning, but Joakim Soria restored order with a scoreless 10th to extend the game for Mike Moustakas' two-out, two-strike single and a 3-2 win, giving the Brewers a dramatic opening victory at Miller Park.
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The hit scored Christian Yelich, the NL MVP Award frontrunner whose two-run home run in the third inning provided the only scoring in the game through eight brilliant innings from four Brewers relievers, led by "opener" Brandon Woodruff and followed by Corbin Burnes, Corey Knebel and Josh Hader. Three more outs from Jeffress, and it would have all gone according to script.
Baseball rarely does.
"A game like that is no good for the heart, no good for the blood pressure," said Ryan Braun. "The way the game went for the first eight innings, we had to win that game. We could not lose that game at home."
History backs Braun up on that. 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). Teams that have lost Game 1 at home have gone on to lose the series 28 of 40 times (70 percent).
It was the Brewers' first postseason walk-off since Nyjer Morgan's single in the 10th inning sealed Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the D-backs. Morgan returned Thursday to throw the ceremonial first pitch.
Ten innings later, it was Moustakas' turn. Left-handed hitter. Tenth inning. Ballgame.
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"An unbelievable moment," said Moustakas.
Yelich worked back from 0-2 to draw a walk from Colorado right-hander Adam Ottavino to start the bottom of the 10th and advanced on a wild pitch to give the Brewers chances like the ones they had squandered in consecutive innings in the seventh and eighth. With two on and two outs, they were one out away from doing the same in the 10th, but Moustakas, acquired from the Royals before the non-waiver Trade Deadline in July, pulled a fastball into right field to win it.
"Obviously, we would have liked to win in [the ninth], but you regroup as a team," Yelich said. "You kind of take a deep breath. 'All right, now we've just got to find a way to push one across.' And we were able to do that."
For eight smooth innings, it didn't look like the Brewers would need a walk-off hit to win. When Jeffress took the mound, they were three outs away from their first shutout victory in the postseason since a 10-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series, and the first postseason one-hitter since a 1-0 Tigers win over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 2013 American League Championship Series.
All without a No. 1 starter. Instead, Counsell and the Brewers handed the baseball to Woodruff, the 25-year-old former top prospect who made 21 starts this season between Triple-A and the Majors, but returned as a September callup to pitch out of the bullpen. He struck out three batters in three hitless innings before Burnes followed with three more strikeouts in two scoreless frames.
The only Rockies hit for eight innings was Carlos Gonzalez's fifth-inning triple. Burnes escaped.
"Before the game, if you'd have told me I was going to get five innings from two guys, I would have said we're in a very good spot," Counsell said. "And lots of credit -- I know everybody in our organization, our player development, our scouting should be proud. Two homegrown guys going out there in the first game of the playoff series and getting 15 outs for us, pretty cool."
"All plus-velo, good offspeed, different types," said the Rockies' Nolan Arenado. "We saw a different pitcher every at-bat."
Even Woodruff was surprised when he first heard the plan.
"Game 1, you feel like you should have your No. 1 starter to go out there," said Woodruff with a smile. "But this is the way we've been winning games."
Get used to it. The Brewers have their most durable and effective starting pitcher set to go in Friday's Game 2, but Jhoulys Chacin is on short rest and is not expected to pitch as deep into the game as normal.
The bullpen will probably be active again.
"That's the epitome of who we are. That's how we've gotten here," said Braun. "And I don't think we're going to start doing anything different now."
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Yelich, again: September's NL Player of the Month appears intent on carrying it over into October. Yelich went 2-for-3 with two walks and a stolen base in his postseason debut, including a projected 413-foot home run, per Statcast™, off Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela in the third inning for a 2-0 lead.
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"What a good game," said Rockies manager Bud Black. "The home run on the changeup out over the plate -- to stay back on an offspeed pitch, even though the ball was up in a pretty good spot to hit, his timing looks like he's impeccable. He's on everything. Even his takes are good."
All square: Jeffress had been as lights-out as a reliever can get over the past month-plus before Thursday's letdown. He had not allowed a run of his own or an inherited runner to score since Aug. 29 in Cincinnati, which preceded a stretch of 11 scoreless appearances to close the regular season in which Jeffress struck out 17, scattered four singles and never allowed more than one hit in a game. But the Rockies greeted him with three successive singles, including Charlie Blackmon's RBI hit.
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When Arenado lifted a sacrifice fly two batters later, the game was tied. When the Brewers went down in order in the bottom of the inning, they were headed to extras.
"We had the game right where we wanted to, and I thought J.J. made some good pitches," said Counsell. "They just hit some ground balls -- gave up a solid base hit to [Gerardo] Parra and then they hit a couple balls to the infield. Then he made some bigtime pitches to keep the score tied, really."
"You can't dwell on that stuff," Jeffress said. "You have to keep going."
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According to Baseball Reference, Thursday was first time two pitchers this young started opposite one another in a postseason game since the Royals' Yordano Ventura (24 years, 149 days) and the Mets' Noah Syndergaard (23 years, 62 days) met for Game 3 of the 2015 World Series. Woodruff is 25 years, 236 days old. Senzatela is 23 years, 256 days old.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The Brewers make no apologies for being aggressive on the basepaths, and that's what Braun had in mind when he tried to score all the way from second base on a wild pitch in the first inning. Braun, who'd singled with two outs, had already advanced 90 feet on one pitch in the dirt when Senzatela threw another. Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta scrambled to the backstop in time to get the ball and throw it to a covering Senzatela for an easy out.
"No, [third-base coach Ed Sedar] wasn't waving me. I made that decision on my own," said Braun. "Two outs, I made that decision when I was halfway to third. Iannetta made a good play, a good throw, [Senzatela] made a good tag. Less than two outs, I wouldn't have run. Later in the game, I wouldn't have run. But one of the things we've done all year is be aggressive, force the action at times. They made a play on that ball, but it worked out because we won the game."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS, TOO
Braun was involved in another odd play in the sixth, when he hit a rocket off first baseman Ian Desmond's glove into right field. Yelich was at first and thought Desmond caught the ball, then tagged him for a double play, so he didn't run. Braun, however, was yelling at him to go to second base. Yelich was forced out and Braun was denied a hit because of it.
"He was able to deke me. It's one of those freak plays," said Yelich. "It's unfortunate, but thankfully it didn't cost us."
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"We've been working on that play," Braun said, tongue in cheek. "When I hit a line drive to right, Yeli runs back to the dugout."
MITEL REPLAYS OF THE DAY
Brewers catcher Manny Pina threw out DJ LeMahieu trying to steal second base in the first inning and Ryan McMahon trying to do the same in the sixth, though the Brewers had to challenge to get the second of those outs. McMahon initially was called safe, but replays showed Orlando Arcia leaving his feet to take Pina's throw and applying a tag in one fluid motion. The call was overturned, and the sixth inning was over.
In the ninth, it looked like Blackmon had cut the deficit to one with an RBI ground-rule double down the right-field line. But Jeffress said he was certain from the start that the baseball had landed foul, and after the Brewers challenged, that initial ruling was overturned. Unfortunately for Jeffress and the Brewers, Blackmon delivered an RBI single instead and Colorado went on to tie the game.
Game 2 is another afternoon affair, with Chacin set to face his former club beginning at 3:15 p.m. CT. He worked 5 2/3 high-pressure innings against the Cubs in Monday's NL Central tiebreaker, so it's unclear how many pitches the Brewers have in mind for him on three days' rest. Left-hander Tyler Anderson starts for Colorado.