MILWAUKEE -- No one knows a hitter better than his hitting coach, but even Andy Haines wasn’t sure whether Sunday marked Ryan Braun's final game in Milwaukee.
Braun, 36 and the Brewers’ all-time leader with 351 home runs, 100 more than runner-up Robin Yount, will finish the final guaranteed year of his contract on the road. The club is all but certain to decline its half of Braun’s $15 million mutual option after the World Series, leaving it up in the air whether he will be back to say goodbye to Brewers fans in person.
“Putting yourself in his shoes,” Haines said, “it has to be a little bit torture because with what he’s earned and what this city means to him, what he means to the city. To not have fans here for this, if this is it for him, is sad. That’s really sad and not fair. It’s not fair for anybody, for Ryan or the fans. That part of it stinks.”
If this was it, Braun went out with a pair of hits in a 5-3 victory over the Royals. He lined a hanging breaking ball from Royals starter Brad Keller past the shortstop for a single in the sixth inning and then scored for the second time on a Daniel Vogelbach home run. In the seventh, Braun reached on an infield single and raised his right index finger in the air.
“It was a good way to end it, man,” Braun said. “I’ve got a lot of lineouts, so when you get a lucky hit like that, it feels like it's evening out and feels great. So, that was a great way to end it.”
That language will surely fuel speculation that Braun won’t be back beyond this season, but he insisted it is an open question.
Braun said he would decide over the winter after consulting with his wife, Larisa, who gave birth to son Carter, the couple’s third child, while Spring Training was suspended because of COVID-19. And the pandemic itself will play a role in his decision, said Braun, who indicated he wants “to see what the sport itself and the world looks like” before pondering playing another season.
“This has been such a unique and challenging year in so many ways that I just want to take my time making that decision,” he said. “Being a parent and being a husband, my family are my top priorities in my life. As my kids get older, I don't enjoy being away from them at all.”
The infield single was Braun’s 964th hit at Miller Park, the last handful of which have been hard-fought. Fighting a bad back all summer, he had to exit the series opener Friday against the Royals when he couldn’t throw in right field and could barely run the bases. Braun managed to get loose enough to serve as the Brewers’ designated hitter on Saturday and hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning that allowed manager Craig Counsell to rest closer Josh Hader.
On Sunday, back in the lineup as the DH, Braun paused a moment on the field before the game. It was the Brewers’ final home game, and also their final game under the “Miller Park” banner high above center field. The stadium will be renamed American Family Field on Jan. 1, 2021.
“All these guys are telling me it’s not just potentially my last day at Miller Park, but everyone else’s, as well,” Braun said during the FS Wisconsin telecast. “It’s a bit of an emotional day. I think it would be different if there were fans here.”
Atop his list of favorite Miller Park memories is Sept. 28, 2008, when CC Sabathia pitched a complete game and Braun hit a tiebreaking home run for the victory that clinched the National League Wild Card and ended Milwaukee’s 26-year postseason drought.
Braun also hit the NL Central-clinching home run in 2011 for the Brewers’ first division title in 29 years, and a first-inning grand slam last September in Cincinnati that clinched a postseason berth. He has been part of four of the Brewers’ six postseason entries in 52 seasons as a franchise. He is hoping to add another this year.
On Sunday, Braun said some goodbyes to longtime stadium employees. Just in case.
“There's a really good quote that says, 'The days go slow, but the years go fast,'” Braun said. “You kind of look back on it -- there's times in the middle of the season where the days feel long but when I look back, it feels like the 14 years have gone by in the blink of an eye.”