Brewers win anticipated Memorial Day matchup with rival Cubs

Gasser, Steele duel on mound in Counsell's return to Milwaukee

May 28th, 2024

MILWAUKEE – The Brewers acknowledged Craig Counsell’s return to American Family Field with a tasteful thank you video. Fans welcomed the Cubs manager back home to Milwaukee in their own way.

And then, for all the buildup to this Memorial Day matchup of the National League Central’s top two teams, what happened off the field last fall took a backseat to the drama on the field in the Brewers’ 5-1 win on Monday.

Cubs ace and Brewers rookie starter each carried shutouts into the seventh inning before the Brewers started a rally in the eighth off Chicago reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Pinch-hitter Sal Frelick led off with a single, and Brice Turang walked before William Contreras’ sharp grounder glanced off the glove of Cubs third baseman Nick Madrigal for an error. It not only gave the Brewers the game’s first run, but it extended the inning for Willy Adames’ three-run home run and Jackson Chourio’s RBI double, as Milwaukee pulled away in front of a sellout crowd of 41,882.

All afternoon, those fans made sure they were heard.

“Look, cheer, boo, whatever, man,” Counsell said before fans treated him to mostly the latter during pregame introductions. “Just have a good time at the game. That’s what fans get to do. Just have a good time. It’s Memorial Day. You don’t have to work today. Let’s all have a good time.”

For Counsell’s former club, it was a very good time.

“A lot of us were waiting for this series, because it’s always intense when you’re playing the Cubs, especially because we have Counsell coming for the first time since he left,” said Adames. “When you’re playing in energy like that, it’s incredible. I wish we could have that every night.”

Both starting pitchers kept the energy high by matching zeros into the seventh, when Gasser allowed two men to reach and was replaced by Brewers ace reliever Bryan Hudson, who followed Gasser’s six-plus scoreless innings with two of his own. Gasser set a career high with seven strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 1.96 with only one walk in 23 innings after four Major League starts. Hudson’s ERA this season is down to 0.59 through 20 Brewers appearances.

Steele was just as tough. He held the Brewers scoreless on three hits for seven innings, with one walk and eight strikeouts.

“It was a great pitchers’ duel,” Counsell said. “Both pitchers were kind of on the attack, and it just felt like every hitter was in a hole, every single at-bat from both sides.”

Said Gasser: “These games are really fun. I’m looking forward to hopefully doing it again.”

It was the second matchup this season of Counsell’s Cubs and a Brewers team managed by his onetime college coach, Pat Murphy. They met at Notre Dame in 1989, when Counsell was a skinny shortstop and Murphy was a young coach. Beginning in 2016, Counsell’s first full season as Brewers manager, they swapped roles when Murphy came to Milwaukee to be his bench coach. After Counsell shocked the baseball world by signing a record-setting five-year deal to manage the Cubs, the Brewers promoted Murphy to replace him.

“I think it was good yin and yang between us,” Murphy said. “I think he did more for me than I did for him, to be quite honest.”

Counsell calls the relationship a 35-year “baseball conversation,” but those chats are a little less frequent now. It’s not because of any animosity, Murphy has explained. It’s just that their talks usually turned to how to coax the best from players, and it’s difficult to talk about that while they’re working for rivals.

From afar, Counsell is impressed by Murphy’s work leading the Brewers to first place despite injuries in the starting rotation and with an improved offense that entered the day third in the Majors in runs per game. Counsell sees Murphy’s fingerprints on players like second-year shortstop Turang, who has boosted his OPS more than 200 points over last season.

“It’s a team in your division, a team that’s playing really well,” Counsell said. “You know, we are not playing very well right now, so we’re trying to get things on track. That tends to be where your thoughts go in this job.”

Murphy has a similar mindset. Memorial Day is often when teams note their place in the standings, and Monday’s win put the Brewers 4 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Cubs.

“We have a good club in here, and we know it's going to turn around,” Steele said. “It’s going to take one inning or one game where we score 10 runs or something. We know what we have in there.”

“This is a nice win, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Murphy said. “I’ll say it again and again, and you guys can laugh at me, but you can’t coast uphill. You know what we’re facing: injuries, inexperience, all that stuff. Just keep going.”