MILWAUKEE -- What was meant to be a nostalgic touch morphed into a bit of timely foreshadowing Thursday night, when Nyjer Morgan returned to throw the ceremonial first pitch of Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Miller Park. The former Brewers speedster, out of MLB four years now, played hero the last time Milwaukee reached October, his 2011 NLDS-clinching single marking the only postseason walk-off hit in team history.
Flash forward a few hours, and Morgan has company. By build, skillset, personality, you name it, Morgan and Mike Moustakas could not be more dissimilar players. But both now share similar places in Brewers lore, after Moustakas sent the Crew to a 3-2 win over the Rockies in the NLDS opener. Moustakas rifled an 0-2 fastball from Adam Ottavino into right field, scoring Christian Yelich to cap the victory in 10 innings, secure a lead in this best-of-five series and send the paid crowd of 43,382 into a stupor.
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"An unbelievable moment," Moustakas said afterward. "It was an awesome atmosphere in there, so adrenaline was running high. … It feels pretty good to finish the way we did."
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Mobbed by his teammates on the outfield grass, history felt far from Moustakas. But the parallels were not lost on Craig Counsell, and there are many. The last time an NL player collected a walk-off hit in his team's first game of the postseason was 1997, when the Marlins won Game 1 of the NLDS against the Giants on Edgar Renteria's single. Counsell was on that team, and later that October scored the game-winning run in Game 7 of the World Series on another Renteria walk-off hit. Counsell was also on the bench when Morgan punched his game-winner up the middle seven years ago, the future manager in the final season of a 16-year playing career. Those memories, he acknowledged, came flooding back Thursday.
"The closest game to this would be from the guy who threw out the first pitch today," Counsell said, referring to Morgan. "It's a cool moment, man. It was a rollercoaster ride for the fans tonight. … It was a great scene."
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For Moustakas, too, the heroics have precedent. The third baseman often compares these Brewers to the Royals team with which he won two American League pennants earlier this decade. It was Moustakas who sealed that group's first ALDS win, his 11th-inning homer off Noel Salas clinching Game 1 in 2014. Thursday marked the 32nd postseason game of Moustakas' career; Lorenzo Cain (32) and Curtis Granderson (58) are the only other Brewers who've played at least that many.
That experience, coupled with the left-handed power he provides, played into the Brewers' calculus when they acquired Moustakas from the Royals prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"Moose has been in these spots," Counsell said. "I think it's something where you try not to make the situation too big, and he did a great job of it and finally got a pitch to hit."
Moustakas considers it fortunate that he even did against Ottavino, who he called "one of the best relievers in all of baseball." Statistically, the odds were stacked against him: Hitters went 0-for-36 with 31 strikeouts after falling into 0-2 counts against Ottavino during the regular season. That was the situation Moustakas found himself in after swinging through a first-pitch fastball and fouling off two more heaters.
But with Yelich dancing off third and Ottavino's slider misbehaving -- the righty yanked two wild pitches with it over his last two appearances -- Moustakas got another fastball in the middle of the plate.
"I thought he was late on my fastball, under it a little bit," said Ottavino. "Everybody knows I throw a lot of sliders. In that spot I wanted to elevate. I wanted to get it a little higher than I got it. I guessed what he was looking for wrong."
One swing later, and the Brewers are in an enviable position. 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).
"Going up 1-0 is huge, especially at home," Moustakas said. "It's a big win carrying some momentum into tomorrow."