Woodruff's rare HR comes with extra emotion

Reliever's shot off Kershaw buoyed by memory of late brother

October 12th, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- Richard Woodruff stood in the hallway outside the Brewers' clubhouse early Saturday morning, hands buried in his pockets, overcome with emotion. His eyes swelled. He could barely speak, the weight of what he'd witnessed too much to bear.
"They want me to talk about it," Woodruff said, motioning to his wife, Belinda. "But I can't stop crying."
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Richard's tears were sparked by what his son, Brewers right-hander , had managed hours before. But they trace back farther into the past, before Brandon sent a fastball 407 feet over the center-field wall, more than two years before he became the unlikely star of Milwaukee's 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Friday night's Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
The tears streamed for who wasn't there to witness it, at least in person: Brandon's older brother, Blake.
"When it plays out the way it did tonight," the senior Woodruff said, "it really makes you think about certain things."
Brandon was in Double-A in 2016 when Blake died of complications from an ATV accident. The Woodruffs buried him on a Monday. With a heavy heart, Brandon returned to his team, and six days later, his family watched from home as he enjoyed the finest game of his professional career to that point, homering and earning the victory in a 1-0 win.
"It all kind of played out like a movie," Brandon said, remembering that day. "And today was kind of crazy."
Woodruff couldn't have been farther from that field in Pensacola, Fla., on Friday. The stakes couldn't have been higher. But the parallels, for the Woodruffs, were impossible to ignore. Not only did Woodruff's blast off Kershaw in the third inning shock the 43,615 assembled at Miller Park, he was also awarded the win after throwing two perfect innings of relief to help inch the Brewers closer to their first World Series berth in 36 years.

"Getting in the clubhouse after the outing was over, you think about it," Woodruff admitted. "You think about what [Blake] would be doing. Probably going crazy."
Everyone else was. From the stands, Richard couldn't even see his son round the bases, his view blocked by a crowd sent into a frenzy. In the bullpen, 's jaw dropped. Brandon greeted so amped after crossing home that Cain said, "He almost broke my arm."

"To see the ball go out of the ballpark against Clayton," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "obviously, that was a surprise to all of us."
The start was the 344th career game -- including the postseason -- for Kershaw, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner. Never before had he allowed a home run to a left-handed-hitting pitcher. Only twice had any reliever homered in a postseason game -- Woodruff joins and Rosy Ryan in that exclusive club. Woodruff also became the first Milwaukee pitcher to homer in a postseason game since the 1958 World Series, when Lew Burdette did so against the Yankees.
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Yet the Woodruffs will remember the homer in the prism of some lesser-known history -- theirs. Brandon followed Blake, five years his elder, all over Tupelo, Miss., where they grew up. To practices. To games. Then Blake watched as Brandon grew into such a slugger for Wheeler High School, he batted leadoff to discourage teams from intentionally walking him. They walked him nonetheless, and Brandon earned All-State honors anyway.

Blake "was the guy I learned baseball from," Woodruff said. "He taught me how to play. I owe a lot of what I know now to him."

The Rangers made Woodruff a fifth-round pick in 2011, but he went to Mississippi State instead, where he was a two-way player for the Bulldogs. The Brewers drafted him as a starter in the 11th round in 2014.
Woodruff's homer for Double-A Biloxi was the first of his professional career. He's now hit two in the Majors, the other coming this July off Pirates righty .

Woodruff has pitched five scoreless innings this postseason.
"The whole second half of that season, he was pitching for his brother, and he was just dynamite," said left-hander , who was with Woodruff at Double-A two summers ago. "It was really cool to see. That moment [tonight], I'm sure his brother was smiling down."