García goes near and far to deliver win

July 9th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers played the first of seven straight games against the Reds on Thursday, and while one stretch of July interrupted by the All-Star break won’t decide the National League Central, it has the potential to swing the standings.

The takeaway from the opener of a unique seven-game series?

Even contenders need a combination of luck and skill.

Take , the Milwaukee hero who had two hits and three RBIs, capped by a tie-breaking, two-run home run in the eighth inning that sent the Brewers to a 5-3 victory that didn’t win any style points, but did give Milwaukee a seven-game lead over second-place Cincinnati.

In the first inning, García hit an RBI single off Reds starter Tyler Mahle. The exit velocity, according to Statcast, was 48.5 mph. The projected distance was one foot.

In the eighth, García hit a home run off Reds reliever Brad Brach. The exit velocity was 107.1 mph. The projected distance was 426 feet.

“That's how crazy baseball is, you know?” García said. “You've got to take whatever baseball gives to you.”

His heroics, and Josh Hader’s bounceback from his first blown save of the season in Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Mets a day before, decided a back-and-forth ballgame that wasn’t always pretty. Buckle up. These teams have three more games in Milwaukee, then three in Cincinnati immediately after next week’s All-Star break.

“I can’t ever remember that happening,” said Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns earlier this week. “They’re big games. Any intra-division games are going to be big. When you have seven in a row against the same team, it’s going to feel bigger because it can swing one way or the other depending on how those games go.

“But we’ve got a long ways to go. I said it before the Cubs series [on the last homestand], I’m saying it before this Reds series and I’ll probably be saying it until the last week of September. This is a marathon. It’s going to be a marathon. It’s going to go in waves and it is going to be a dog fight.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell was asked about the head-to-head stretch, too.

He smiled.

“You guys start that early, the hype machine,” he said. “And that’s great. Look, this is the team that’s in second place, so it’s important. It’s cliché, but we’ve got so long to go. You play the games in front of you, you play the teams in front of you, and it was a good win tonight. Good team effort.”

It wasn’t a showcase of postseason-caliber pitching and defense. At least not early. The Brewers led, 2-0, then trailed, 3-2, after electric reliever Jake Cousins threw two run-scoring wild pitches and surrendered a go-ahead single in the span of three pitches.

The Brewers tied the game in the sixth inning when Reds All-Star Jesse Winker dropped a Keston Hiura double on the run at the warning track that was there for Winker to catch, only to be denied the lead by some good Reds defense in the seventh, when another outfielder, Tyler Naquin, threw out Luis Urías at home plate trying to score the go-ahead run on a two-out single.

Adrian Houser, the Brewers starter who pitched in traffic throughout his 4 1/3 innings, heard the broadcasters refer to this seven-game stretch as a sort of playoff atmosphere, and he agreed.

Mahle, on the other side, saw things differently.

“It’s weird to say,” Mahle said, “but it’s super early in the season and we still have another full half. But every game is huge, we expect to win every game and we want to win every game. I don’t know why we would put more pressure on ourselves and I don’t think we are. Everyone is looking it as a huge series and it is just like every series.”

The series began with a Brewers win thanks to García. It was his 16th home run this season, four shy of his career-high 20 homers in Tampa Bay in 2019 in nearly twice as many at-bats. García credits experience.

“Like I said before, it takes a lot of responsibility to play this game,” he said. “We want to win. I want to win. Everybody wants to win, so it takes a lot of responsibility.”

He added, “We've just got to keep winning, keep playing good baseball, good defense, good hitting. And I think if we do that for the rest of the season, I think we're going to make it.”