MILWAUKEE -- The first pitch of the first three-homer game in Christian Yelich's career was still nearly four hours away Monday when the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner stepped into the batter’s box at Miller Park.
Yelich carried a 1.064 OPS into the day, and was about to carry the Brewers to a 10-7 win over the Cardinals. But he wasn’t happy with his swing. Truth be told, he hasn’t been happy with his swing all year, even during a sensational Spring Training and a record-tying start to a regular season that began with home runs in four consecutive games.
So Yelich spent an hour hitting baseballs in an empty stadium. Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines stood 40 or so feet away behind an L-screen, feeding Yelich underhand throws. Every few minutes, they stopped to talk.
“I do that all the time. I just don’t do it on the field, so nobody ever sees it,” Yelich said. “We did it on the field just to switch it up. Andy’s idea. You can see the ball fly a little bit more, get a little better idea.”
The session followed a pair of hitless games in Los Angeles that snapped Yelich’s on-base streak at 27 games dating to last season. He hadn’t gone back-to-back regular season games without a hit since the second week of August, amid a second-half surge that made Yelich a runaway choice for the NL MVP Award.
He decided it was a good time for some extra work. The Brewers landed from Los Angeles at about midnight CT on Sunday, but Yelich showed up early Monday for extra stretching with an extended hitting session in mind.
“Andy would have stayed out there, if I wanted, for three hours today. Into it, energized, ready to grind,” Yelich said. “I just love that.”
What were they working on?
“It’s all about feel,” Yelich said. “It’s hard to explain. It’s something I probably can’t explain. That’s part of my daily battle that nobody ever sees. Trying to find a feel.
“I feel like I haven’t played good at all this year. Even in the beginning, I guess, I didn’t feel good. I was trying to find that feeling.”
Even when he became the sixth player in Major League history to hit a home run in his team’s first four games?
“I didn’t feel locked in,” Yelich said. “I felt like I was still searching for things, for feelings. It’s a continuous battle throughout the year."
The early results on Monday were promising, to put it mildly. Yelich hit a pair of three-run home runs and added a solo shot in the eighth to tie the Brewers single-game records for home runs and RBIs. It was the first three-homer game for a Brewers player since Aaron Hill’s at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on May 7, 2016. It was the first seven-RBI game for a Brewers player since Jesus Aguilar’s on July 7, 2017 at Yankee Stadium.
Yelich matched those marks in front of the home fans.
And once again, his damage came at the Cardinals’ expense. Seven of Yelich’s first eight home runs this season are off St. Louis pitchers. Dating to last season, he has homered in six straight games against St. Louis in which he’s had an at-bat.
“We have to find a solution and it starts with me figuring it out,” said Cardinals manager Mike Shildt. “Candidly, I've never seen anything like that in my life. … You have to tip your hat. It's unbelievable. It's almost like he's psychic.”
After falling behind on back-to-back home runs in the first inning by Cardinals sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Paul DeJong, Yelich lined out in the first inning and didn’t make an out the rest of the night. He put the cap on a go-ahead, six-run second-inning rally that began with a Mike Moustakas home run and, critically, included an RBI single for pitcher Freddy Peralta that extended the inning to give Yelich an at-bat with two outs. Yelich crushed a three-run homer off Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson that left the bat with a 114.1 mph exit velocity, the highest exit velocity on any of Yelich’s batted balls since Statcast began tracking in 2015.
It was the Brewers’ biggest inning this season, and their most runs in an inning against the Cardinals since a six-spot in the sixth inning on Sept. 8, 2016 at Busch Stadium.
After the Cardinals fought back to tie the game in the sixth inning, Yelich did it again. With one out, right-hander Mike Mayers threw a fastball above the strike zone, and Yelich somehow hit it for a towering fly ball that hugged the right-field foul pole for another three-run home run to put the Brewers ahead 9-6.
After making a diving catch to end the Cardinals’ seventh inning, Yelich set a new personal best with his seventh RBI of the game by lifting a solo home run to left-center field in the eighth.
“Give the guy credit, man -- he tried to fix himself, and the great ones get answers quicker than everybody else,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
In the dugout after Yelich hit his first home run, Haines asked whether he’d found that good feel.
Not yet, Yelich answered. He would keep searching.
“I went and gave Andy a big old hug [after the game]," Yelich said. “That’s what I was talking about earlier -- just sometimes you have to grind through some stuff, find some things and put the work in.”