MILWAUKEE -- With one game to go, the Brewers are back on top of the National League Central.Christian Yelich, meanwhile, is on top of the baseball world.Yelich put the Triple Crown squarely in play by smashing two more home runs against the Tigers on Saturday -- a two-run shot that
MILWAUKEE -- With one game to go, the Brewers are back on top of the National League Central.
Christian Yelich, meanwhile, is on top of the baseball world.
Yelich put the Triple Crown squarely in play by smashing two more home runs against the Tigers on Saturday -- a two-run shot that started a comeback in the third inning and a tiebreaking solo blast to lead off the seventh that sent the Brewers to a 6-5 win at Miller Park and a share of first place with the Cubs with one thrilling regular-season Sunday to go.
• Two titles on the line today: NL Central, NL West
The NL Central title isn't the only crown on the line Sunday as Yelich chases a Triple Crown. Yelich leads the National League with a .324 average. He is tied with Matt Carpenter for the homer lead with 36. And he trails the Cubs' Javier Baez (111) by two RBIs (109). Should Yelich finish the season leading in all three categories, he would be the NL's first Triple Crown winner since the Cardinals' Joe Medwick in 1937.
"He picks us up. He's carrying us," Brewers starter Wade Miley said of Yelich. "He said in the third inning, 'We ain't losing this game.' And he made sure of that."
Yelich earned a curtain call from the eighth-largest crowd in the 18-year history of Miller Park, many of whom will be back Sunday as the Brewers aim to win the division outright or at least force a deciding regular-season Game 163 on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
The Cubs, who took a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday, will be trying to do the same. First pitches across MLB will fly simultaneously on Sunday just after 2 p.m. CT.
"You play all those games and it still comes down to 162," said Yelich. "I was saying earlier, how those cliches -- 'One game at a time,' 'All these games count,' 'Opening Day is the same as a day in June' -- and look where we're at. Dead even at 161 with 162 to play.
"But it's a lot of fun. I think everybody is really excited. I think we're expecting a lot of energy."
Saturday's energy came from the largest crowd at Miller Park this season at 45,520 strong, which erupted for the second of Yelich's homers when he sent a Daniel Stumpf pitch 110 mph off the bat and a projected 425 feet to right field, according to Statcast™. It gave the Brewers the lead, boosted Yelich's NL-leading batting average to .324, tied him atop the NL leaderboard with the Cardinals' Matt Carpenter at 36 home runs and gave Yelich 109 RBIs -- two shy of the Cubs' Javier Baez's league lead.
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Uncharacteristically, Yelich flipped his bat. Moments later, he answered the first curtain call of his career. He said he wasn't sure exactly what to do.
"I'll tell you what -- the fans flipped the switch today, because the fans got Christian into it," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "There's no question in my mind the vibe in the stadium flipped today. The energy level was turned way up, and you felt it."
Even as he spoke to reporters later, Yelich had a hard time processing that he was talking about a possible Triple Crown. There have been 15 batting Triple Crowns in big league history, most recently by the Tigers' Jose Cabrera in 2012.
"You can't hide from it. You've got to embrace it," Yelich said. "But at the same time, we all realize that a win is at the forefront of everybody's mind. That's by far the most important thing."
But it's a Triple Crown.
"You don't even dream about that. It's a dumb dream. Get real," Yelich said with a smile. "It's something that you just have to embrace and not shy away from but realize that, hey, we've got a bigger team goal."
Yelich's last 14 plate appearances consist of eight walks, four home runs and two strikeouts.
On Friday, when Yelich's two-run homer in the first inning started another comeback from another 3-0 deficit against these same Tigers, Counsell called Yelich's recent run "insane."
Did he have a new description teed up for Saturday?
"It's still insane," Counsell said. "We're sitting here every night and I say it's reached a new level and then it reaches a new level. It's just special, man. Just as baseball people, to watch a player like this in a stretch like this with the importance of the games for a team is historical, for sure."
The Tigers proved pesky for the second straight game, knocking an uncharacteristically shaky Miley out after three innings with Milwaukee down, 3-0. The Brewers turned that into a 5-3 lead in the fourth on Erik Kratz's two-run single, only to see Detroit forge a tie with a run apiece in the fifth and the sixth as Counsell emptied his bullpen.
It was veteran midseason pickup Joakim Soria who restored order with a 1-2-3 seventh inning before Yelich provided another lead. Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress held it, setting up a thrilling finale on Sunday afternoon.
Win the division, and the Brewers could rest their hard-worked relief corps until Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Thursday. Otherwise, the Brewers will host the NL Wild Card Game on Tuesday.
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"We know what's at stake," Jeffress said. "We have been used a lot, but that's what we play for, man. … We want it. We know what's in our arm's reach, right there. We're going to fight to the end, fight until it's over."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The game appeared to be unraveling from the Brewers in the sixth, when the Tigers tied the game at 5 on Pete Kozma's sacrifice fly. That was against Taylor Williams, and the inning continued with Xavier Cedeno on the mound for the Brewers and then Jacob Barnes, who found himself in big trouble after Kratz's throwing error on a stolen base put a runner on third, and a Barnes walk made it runners at the corners with two outs for Detroit's most dangerous hitter, Nicholas Castellanos.
Barnes threw him a 1-1 fastball right down the middle and Castellanos gave it a ride to right field, where Yelich made a running, jumping catch against the wall to end the inning with the tie intact.
"I think I turned that into a harder play than it had to be," Yelich said. "But yeah, he hits it right off the bat, you're hoping it stays in the yard, and it did. I kind of misjudged where it was. … Glad that one stayed in the yard for sure."
"That was a big play to get out of that inning," Counsell said. "Then the three relievers at the end did a heck of a job."
At 94-67, winners of six in a row and eight of nine, the Brewers tied the Cubs for the best record in the NL. Whichever club comes out on top will have home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. At the same time, Milwaukee secured the fourth-most regular season victories in franchise history with a chance to tie the 1979 and '82 clubs for second-most on Sunday and match the all-time record from 2011 if the regular season extends into Monday.
HE SAID IT
"You know, when you're at the plate, it's really hard to explain. You try and go to this place where you're just super focused and you try not to let the emotion of the situation affect you. You've got to calm yourself down. I think the louder the better. I don't mind it at the plate. On the field, like I said, I think our guys feed off of it." -- Yelich, on the crowd noise, which Counsell compared to the Brewers' postseason run in 2011
With the division on the line, the Brewers will hand the ball to veteran left-hander Giovany Gonzalez, who is 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA in four starts since coming to Milwaukee from the Nationals. Gonzalez knows pressure pitching, having made six postseason starts for Washington. The Tigers counter with right-hander Spencer Turnbull in his fourth Major League appearance and third start. First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. CT at Miller Park.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.