Yelich hits No. 34 as Crew holds off Braves 

Slugger tied for HR lead with LA's Bellinger; Brewers win series

July 18th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- , meet . You two have met before.

In what is shaping into a memorable home run race, Yelich went the opposite way for his 34th home run Wednesday to match Dodgers slugger Bellinger atop the Major League leaderboard in the Brewers’ 5-4 win over the Braves at Miller Park.

Bellinger would get a chance to reclaim the lead later in Philadelphia, and if he did it, it would not be the first time the two friends have gone deep on the same day. Entering Wednesday, they had already done so 10 times during this power-packed season.

“I think anything that's competition for Christian is going to motivate him,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “I think he was happy to make contact against after his first two at-bats.”

Keuchel started for the Braves and struck out Yelich swinging the first two times up, dropping Yelich to 1-for-8 with five strikeouts lifetime against the lefty.

“You saw he just stood there in the first pitch of [the third] at-bat,” Counsell said. “I think he was playing possum almost, like he wasn't going to swing that whole at-bat. Look, he's having an incredible season, and it continues. Even in stretches where he complains that he's not feeling perfect, he's still putting up some incredible numbers.”

“I remember he was telling me early in the game, ‘I don’t think I’ve hit a ball in the air off Keuchel in my career,’” said Brewers rookie . “I said, ‘It’s going to be coming soon.’ And sure enough, that ball he hit to center field. He’s an amazing player, and it’s fun to watch him.”

Yelich is back to hitting homers in bunches, with three in the last four games for a Brewers team suddenly getting solid pitching -- allowed only one hit in 5 2/3 scoreless innings Wednesday -- on the way to Milwaukee’s first series win against a team other than the Pittsburgh Pirates since taking three of four in Philadelphia in mid-May.

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The Brewers played with a lead in the series finale thanks to ’s two-run home run in the second inning before they combined to hit for the cycle in the sixth against Keuchel. Yelich hit the homer with one out, followed by Ryan Braun’s first triple of 2019 and hot-hitting rookie Hiura’s RBI double. Two batters later, Pina singled home Hiura for a 5-0 lead to complete the cycle.

The Braves made it interesting in the ninth inning, when struck out Freddie Freeman with two outs, but the ball got away from Pina, who then threw wildly to first base for an error. Freeman was safe at first, loading the bases for Josh Donaldson’s two-run single to make it a four-RBI afternoon for the veteran. But Hader struck out Ozzie Albies to end the game and seal a series victory.

“We finally started playing the way that we’re capable of offensively, defensively, pitching,” said Yelich, “and we’re going to need to continue to do that.”

Yelich is already two home runs shy of his total from all of last season, when he won the National League MVP Award. Bellinger is providing stiff competition so far this season, but it’s a friendly competition between two players who have started to get to know each other over the past year. Between last year’s NL Championship Series, seven early-season matchups this season plus their starts together in the NL’s outfield at the All-Star Game, Yelich and Bellinger have seen a lot of each other.

“I don’t think we’re exactly looking at what each other is doing. It’s still too early for that,” Yelich said. “We’ve become kind of semi-friends over the last year or so, and it’s always competing with your buddies. He’s a great player, and the things he’s doing are unbelievable. We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out.”