MILWAUKEE -- There’s digging your starter out of an early hole, and then there’s what the Brewers did for pitching prospect Aaron Ashby after the lefty’s historically nightmarish Major League debut.
We’re talking about heavy machinery.
Down seven runs before they swung a bat, the Brewers came all the way back to take a seven-run lead by the fourth inning of a downright bonkers baseball game at American Family Field on Wednesday. When it was finally over, it was a 15-7 win over the shell-shocked Cubs, a three-game Brewers sweep, an eight-game winning streak and Milwaukee’s greatest comeback victory in a decade.
But the last one -- a 7-0 deficit after four innings flipped into an 8-7 win at Minnesota on July 2, 2011 -- developed slowly. In this one, everything happened fast after Ashby became the first pitcher in the modern era to start, go less than an inning and allow at least seven runs in his Major League debut.
Four wild innings later, Ashby wore a huge smile in the dugout after Milwaukee scored one run in the first inning, five in the second and eight in the fourth with a rally in which Jace Peterson gave the Brewers their first lead with a two-run single, and Willy Adames punctuated things with Milwaukee’s first 2021 grand slam.
When Luis Urías hit his second home run of the game in the sixth, the Brewers had scored 15 unanswered runs. The bullpen kept it that way, with five Milwaukee pitchers combining for 8 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. The last team to trail by at least seven runs and then win by at least seven runs was the Marlins against the Phillies on Aug. 23, 2019, when Miami trailed 7-0 and won 19-11. Wednesday marked only the sixth instance of a game like that since 1950.
But if you can believe it, the Brewers had actually done this before. On July 8, 1990, they had a 7-0 deficit against the Angels and came back with six runs in the fourth inning and a franchise-record 13 runs in the fifth on the way to a 20-7 win at County Stadium.
Here’s how Wednesday was different: According to Stats, Inc., it was the first game in the modern era (since 1901) to have both teams lead by at least seven runs by the fourth inning.
“We knew since the first inning that we were going to come back,” Adames said. “We had that feeling.”
“It was a weird feeling,” Peterson said. “Even when we got back in the dugout [after the top of the first inning], a few people were saying it, and you could tell that we were going to win the game. It was a pretty cool feeling from the beginning.”
“They scored seven runs in the first inning but the biggest challenge was to stay focused and fight every AB,” said Urías, who added, “Winning is fun.”
The Brewers have been doing a lot of winning lately:
• At 48-33, they reached the mathematical midpoint with a six-game lead over second-place Chicago in the National League Central for the largest margin of any of baseball’s current division leaders. The Brewers haven’t been this far atop the Central since July 1, 2014, when they had a 6 1/2-game cushion.
• They swept the Cubs for the first time since September 2017 at Wrigley Field and swept the Cubs in Milwaukee for the first time since April 2013.
• The Brewers are on an eight-game regular-season winning streak for the first time since the end of 2018, when they beat the Cubs at Wrigley in Game 163 to claim the division crown.
“You come into these series with division opponents and sweeps change the landscape pretty fast,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It happened to us against the Reds a couple of weeks ago. There’s a game tomorrow, though. There’s four games this weekend and it could change just as fast the other way.”
Of the Brewers’ breathing room in the division, Counsell said, “Look, nothing is decided. Nothing’s close. This goes to the last week of the season like every single year it does.”
The Brewers’ incredible comeback was necessitated by Ashby’s rough big league debut on a bullpen day for the Brewers, when everything that could possibly go wrong in the first inning, did.
Ashby’s first pitch was a ball, and he missed the zone with 21 of 39 pitches in all. The first four batters went single, single, walk, two-run single before Jake Marisnick hit a bouncer to shortstop that went right under Adames’ glove. There was a double steal, a wild pitch, two more walks (including one to the opposing pitcher, Jake Arrieta) and, after Ashby exited in favor of fellow rookie Miguel Sánchez, a broken-bat single for Patrick Wisdom that dropped into left-center field for two more runs and a 7-0 Cubs lead before Arrieta threw a pitch.
But it wasn’t over.
Counsell thought the biggest momentum swing back toward the Brewers was Urías’ two-run home run in the second inning to make it 7-3. Cubs manager David Ross thought it was earlier, when Arrieta issued a trio of walks in the first inning, including one to Peterson that forced in a run.
“They're waiting for a reason to give up when you give up seven in the first,” Ross said. “You can't put guys on base.”
After getting his usual post-outing arm care, Ashby returned to the dugout just in time for the Brewers’ go-ahead rally in the fourth inning.
“As bad as it went,” he said, “I did have fun.”