MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich’s Friday night went like this: 2-for-3 with two runs, one triple, one home run, one walk and one cut lip.
The way Yelich’s season has gone -- and the way this week has been going for the Brewers -- it was a small price to pay in a victory.
Kolten Wong, Willy Adames and Yelich all homered to back a gritty effort from left-hander Eric Lauer in a 5-1 win over the Mets at American Family Field, snapping the Brewers’ five-game losing streak and, for the first time since they secured a spot in the postseason six days earlier, knocking a digit off their magic number to clinch the National League Central.
That magic number is down to two for the Brewers, who have a seven-game lead over the streaking Cardinals with eight to play.
“I like the intensity the Cardinals are playing with,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said Friday afternoon, “but I wouldn't trade places.”
Considering the Cards have won a remarkable 14 in a row after following a four-game sweep in Milwaukee with a doubleheader sweep at Wrigley Field, it appears incumbent on the Brewers to take the division themselves. That effort was off to an inauspicious start when Lauer needed 39 pitches to navigate the first inning against the Mets -- just what the Brewers did not need to begin Day 8 of a 10-game final homestand of the regular season without an off day.
But Lauer struck out Mets catcher James McCann to strand the bases loaded in the first and keep it a 1-0 deficit, then managed to pitch all the way to within one out of the eighth while the Brewers powered their way to a lead. Wong tied the game with his seventh leadoff home run this season before Adames and Yelich hit back-to-back home runs off Tylor Megill in the third for the lead.
Adames’ home run was his first since Aug. 18 and snapped a stretch of 60 homerless plate appearances. Yelich’s home run was his first since he hit two on Aug. 21 and snapped a stretch of 120 homerless plate appearances.
Yelich tripled in his next at-bat and scored once again, but not before cutting the outside and inside of his lower lip while sliding into third base.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve just got kind of a bloody lip and it’s cut up inside. I’m glad all my teeth are still there; that’s all I really care about. My lip will heal.”
“I don’t think he’s going to need stitches but it’s a pretty good cut on the outside and on the inside,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Yelich’s .829 OPS in August offered much hope about a strong finish to what has been another tough year, but he’d slipped to a .475 OPS in September going into Friday night, making him one of a number of Brewers hitters in a funk. Counsell was encouraged to see Yelich’s home run sail a Statcast-projected 402 feet to the opposite field, then see Yelich follow with a triple off a left-hander.
“There’s eight or nine games left or whatever we’ve got, and hopefully a lot of games in the postseason,” Yelich said. “So it’s not over until it’s over, and you’ve just got to keep looking at it that way and try to stay positive every day.”
Lauer made the runs hold up. He matched his career high with nine strikeouts, allowed no runs after the first inning and departed following a two-out infield hit in the seventh to a standing ovation after throwing 114 pitches. The only Brewers pitcher to throw more in an outing this season was Corbin Burnes, who fired 115 pitches over eight innings while combining with Josh Hader on a no-hitter at Cleveland on Sept. 11.
“I think that’s probably the most pitches I’ve thrown in the first inning maybe ever,” Lauer said. “That was a little bit of a gut check to reset after that first inning and go out there and try to put up some quick zeroes. Not just zeroes but some quick ones.”
Said Counsell: “He continues to be really key for us, and on a night we needed length from our starter. Obviously the first inning made it a little precarious, but to deliver that after the first inning, that length, we really had to have it. Just a huge effort.”
As Counsell strode to the mound in the seventh inning, Lauer held his left index finger out to the side. He was asking for one more hitter. But Counsell decided Lauer had delivered enough, and called upon Brent Suter and Hader to finish a victory that snapped a streak of five consecutive losses and six of nine.
“It’s not our first tough stretch of the season,” Yelich said. “Credit to the guys for coming out today with a clean slate and finding a way to get [a win]. That one was big to get back going in a positive direction.”