Yelich first in Majors to 20 homers in '19

May 25th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- chugged one night, and he slugged the next.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell considered it a sign that Yelich’s stiff back was feeling better when he saw video of Yelich chugging a beer during a timeout of Game 5 of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals in Milwaukee on Thursday night -- and that intuition proved on point. Yelich returned to action Friday against the Phillies and smashed his Major League-leading 20th home run to give the Brewers a lead that didn't last in a 6-4 loss at Miller Park.

Yelich reached 20 homers faster than any player in franchise history. It took him just 45 games, besting the mark set by Prince Fielder, who did so in his 58th game in 2007, the year he set the club record with 50 homers.

The last Major Leaguer to amass 20 home runs this quickly was the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton in his first 44 games in 2012.

Asked whether all of that meant anything on a night the Brewers lost, Yelich said, “No, not really. … My whole thing about all that is just put your head down and just keep grinding until the end of the season. Then you can look up and see where you’re at.”

Where he’s at is the top of MLB’s home run race, even after missing seven games entirely and parts of two others with back issues. Yelich's 20 homers are two more than any other player, with Cody Bellinger second in the Majors with 18.

“He came in [on Thursday’s off-day] for a full round of treatment and took some swings,” Counsell said before the game. “He was feeling really good. Same again coming into today. He’s back in there and ready to go.”

That was clear to Counsell from the beer chug, which has become something of a sideline tradition at Milwaukee Bucks games. It was started by Packers offensive lineman David Bakhtiari, and on Thursday night at Fiserv Forum, league MVPs Aaron Rodgers and Yelich gave it a try, too.

Yelich’s videoboard moment was circulated widely on social media.

“As soon as that beer went up in the air, that meant I had to go play the game today. I was fully prepared to do that once that happened,” Yelich said. “I tried to dodge [the Bucks’ camera] a few times. I dodged it for three quarters and then they got me there in the fourth. But it was fun. We were trying to get the fans fired up. Obviously, I passed all my tests in the morning here, knew I was getting ready to play today.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it -- I haven’t done that a whole lot of times in my life -- but it was fun.”

Said Counsell with a laugh: “When I saw him doing that, I was pretty sure he was going to play today. That actually made me feel really good. I felt really good about that. I was like, ‘That means he’s in the lineup.’”

And that he was, right in front of left fielder , who had missed Wednesday’s game against the Reds with a balky knee. Braun looked healthy racing from first to home on ’ first-inning double, and Yelich homered in consecutive innings in the second and third, and delivered another run-scoring double as Milwaukee built a 4-2 lead heading into the fourth.

But the Phillies kept the scoreboard operator even busier. They scored in six of the first seven innings against  and relievers  and  to reclaim the lead by the sixth, when Braun couldn’t come up with an Andrew McCutchen double off the wall. Rhys Hoskins then added insurance with a solo homer off Peralta in the seventh.

The Brewers’ biggest missed opportunity came with the game tied at 4-4 in the fifth, when Yelich walked in front of Braun’s hit-and-run single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Moustakas and Grandal struck out, and Yelich was thrown out at home on a delayed double-steal attempt to end the threat.

Those situations have been a problem for the Brewers, who owned the odd distinction entering Friday’s game of being best in the National League at hitting with runners in scoring position (.275 batting average), while also being worst in the Majors at scoring runners from third with less than two outs (38 percent).

“We’re trying to steal a run right there, and I’d do it again, frankly,” Counsell said. “I thought they made two really good throws. [Catcher J.T.] Realmuto has to make a good throw so [shortstop Jean] Segura could make a good throw on the run with a fast runner at third base, and they turned the ball around twice, really well. I give them credit.”

Said Phillies manager Gabe Kapler: “We trust those infielders to return and make a strong throw, and Segura's was a bullet. He came off the field really proud of that throw -- and rightfully so.”

Regardless of Friday's outcome, the return of Yelich should help Milwaukee’s offense moving forward.

“Productivity aside, it was just nice to be back out there and feel good, and just be able to get back in the game flow,” he said.