The Brewers' top 10 defensive plays of decade

December 17th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers games during the decade of the 2010s featured no shortage of highlight-reel players thanks to , and roaming center field.

But they weren’t the only players (and at least one non-player) flashing glove from 2010-19, and we’ve done our best to let a few other players shine in this list of some of the best defense of the past 10 years of Brewers baseball:

1. Braun turns two in clincher
Date: Sept. 23, 2011

It was the signature play of one of the Brewers’ top games of the decade and a turning point in the victory that clinched Milwaukee’s first division title in 29 years. The Brewers and Marlins were tied 1-1 in the fifth inning at Miller Park when speedy Emilio Bonifacio singled with one out off Yovani Gallardo. Next up was Omar Infante, who hit a sinking line drive to left field, where made a diving catch, popped to his feet and threw to first base to double up Bonifacio, ending the inning. It proved a vital play, since the tie score persisted all the way until the bottom of the eighth inning, when Braun delivered the tiebreaking, three-run home run that decided the win that punched the Brewers’ postseason ticket.

2. LoCain saves Opening Day
Date: March 28, 2019

Call it recency bias, but Cain’s game-winning catch on 2019’s Opening Day soars above the other memorable catches by Brewers center fielders on this list. Perhaps that is because it came amid the pomp and circumstance of a season opener, or because it came against the rival Cardinals, or because it proved the Brewers still had some magic, coming off the National League Championship Series the year before. One can argue that Cain made better catches in 2019 on the way to his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award -- a late-season home run robbery in Denver stands out -- but in the moment, this was the kind of play that makes the hair stand up on the back of one’s neck.

3. Gómez robs Votto
Date: July 8, 2013

The reactions of the players involved -- heck, the big personalities of the players involved -- made this game-ending grab special. Brewers closer Francisco Rodríguez saw the baseball rocket off Joey Votto's bat and didn't even look, so sure he'd just surrendered a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning at Miller Park. Gómez made a leaping catch at the wall to pull it back, raised his right index finger in the air when he came back down and started dancing toward the dugout. Votto pointed in Gomez's direction and demanded proof that the ball was in his glove. When Gomez obliged, Votto doubled over in disbelief. "I've never hit [a walk-off home run]," Gomez said that night, "but I've caught a home run ball to win the game. It's something special. You can't wait to get home and see it over and over."

4. Arcia’s ninth-inning twirl
Date: June 21, 2017

Of all the plays on the list, this may have been the most daring. The situation: Two outs in the ninth inning at Miller Park against the Pirates, with the tying runner at second base. Brewers closer was battling hard after Adam Frazier worked an eight-pitch at-bat for a single, and Josh Harrison coaxed nine more pitches before striking out. Frazier moved to second on a wild pitch, and John Jaso followed by sending a grounder up the middle that Knebel thought would tie the game. entered Knebel's peripheral vision, crossing behind second base to scoop up the bouncing baseball. In one fluid motion, and with Frazier now chugging home as the potential tying run, Arcia spun counterclockwise and threw a one-hopper to first base. Eric Thames made the scoop, Jaso was out, and the Brewers celebrated a 4-3 win and one of the finest finishes in Miller Park's 19 seasons. "I was yelling, 'Don't throw it!'" Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "I mean, to myself, that's what I was thinking. That's his play, for sure. And it took a great play on Thames' end, too. That's a special play and a huge moment."

5. Double play the hard way
Date: April 29, 2012

That it happened in St. Louis in the opening month following the Brewers' NL Championship Series loss to the Cardinals added to the impact of this play, but it also stands on its own. Closer John Axford was in a jam after the Cardinals put runners on the corners with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a one-run game, but he recovered by striking out David Freese and Yadier Molina. When the runner broke from first on the second whiff, catcher Jonathan Lucroy and shortstop Alex Gonzalez combined on an unconventional double play, getting the final out at home plate. Game over. You don’t see many clashes of division rivals end that way.

6. Broxton goes up to beat Cardinals
Date: Aug. 30, 2017

Four years after Gómez robbed Votto, Broxton made a similarly electrifying, game-ending, home run-robbing catch -- just a few steps over on the warning track. Broxton began that day on the bench, but ended it in line for a steak dinner from Knebel. Randall Grichuk hit a long fly ball that appeared on its way to giving St. Louis the lead -- on the video highlight, one can clearly hear the crowd moan -- before Broxton pulled it back for a 6-5 Brewers win. “It's what every outfielder dreams of, making a catch like that," Broxton said.

7. The Raptor shows his agility
Date: June 27, 2018

This list isn’t reserved for infielders and outfielders. Pitchers are athletes, too, as evidenced by left-hander in this game against the Royals. Suter made a backhanded stab of Alex Gordon’s comebacker and did an impromptu somersault, then popped to his feet and dove in Gordon’s direction near first base, pushing Gordon out of the baseline for an out. A month earlier, Suter, who is known as “The Raptor” for the way he runs -- you just have to see it to understand -- made a similarly athletic play to field a bunt from the D-backs’ Socrates Brito and shoveled to first base for an out. A few week before that, Suter made a diving catch and threw from his backside for a double play in the same game he homered off former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. The man can field his position.

8. Yuni’s footwork in 2011 NLDS Game 5
Date: Oct. 7, 2011

Really, it was just a fielder’s choice to shortstop. But if you were there at Miller Park, or watching on television to see the Brewers win a postseason series for the first time in a generation, you know it had disaster written all over it. Lights-out Brewers closer John Axford had just suffered a rare blown save on a squeeze bunt in the ninth inning of 2011 NLDS Game 5 against the D-backs, and Arizona was threatening for more when shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt started charging a soft bouncer on the middle of the infield. He raced to second base a split-second ahead of Justin Upton, getting Axford out of the inning with enough in reserve to return to the mound to pitch a scoreless top of the 10th. When Nyjer Morgan came to the plate in the bottom of the 10th -- well, you know what happened.

It just goes to show -- sometimes even the relatively routine play can find a notable place in history.

9. Gómez climbs Tal’s Hill
Date: June 18, 2013

Kneeling on the mound of turf known in center field at Minute Maid Park as Tal's Hill, and holding the baseball high in the air, the look on Gomez's face said it all: Wow.

It was essentially a meaningless game on that June night in 2013, but Gómez made one of the Brewers' most jaw dropping defensive efforts of the decade when he sprinted straight back for a Jason Castro fly ball, scaled the hill named for the former Astros executive, and made an over-the-shoulder catch. That hill has since been removed, but at the time it was a prominent feature of Houston’s ballpark.

"I worked on it [in batting practice],” Gómez said later. “I got a few balls like that in center field kind of like that, and I dropped them. It was good practice."

10. Another triple play for Davies
Date: Sept 26, 2016

The Brewers turned just three triple plays in the 2010s with two coming during the 2016 season. Both coming behind the same pitcher -- Zach Davies. The second was the old 5-4-3 variety in a late-season victory over the Reds, and while it wasn’t particularly jaw-dropping, it was memorable for the oddity of it all. Remarkably, Davies induced another triple play in a 2018 Spring Training game against the Rockies.

"For some reason, I guess that's my deal," Davies joked.

Honorable mention: Ball boy lays out
Date: Sept 2, 2013

Give some love to the ball boy. Young Brewers staffers seated in foul ground have made some memorable plays over the years, but this one stands out for the smooth diving snag, the ho-hum reaction, and the crack of a smile and doff of the helmet. That kid had a future in baseball -- literally. His name is Aaron Oberley, and today he works in Milwaukee’s front office as coordinator of new media. Coincidentally, his responsibilities include delivering highlights to fans via the club’s many social media outlets.

More memorable plays in recent years

July 4, 2018: Keon Broxton’s home run robbery against the Twins.

July 31, 2018: Cain robs a Cody Bellinger homer in a 1-0 win at Dodger Stadium.

Oct. 13, 2018: Cain robs a David Freese homer in Game 1 of the NLCS.

May 27, 2019: Jeremy Jeffress’ quick reflexes to snag a line drive in Minnesota.

June 8, 2018: Cain makes a catch on Arcia’s deflection.

Sept. 28, 2019: Hobbled Cain robs a homer at Colorado.