MILWAUKEE -- There comes a point in some baseball games at which recording outs is more important than scoring runs. When that moment arrived Friday, it meant Corey Knebel found himself striding to home plate with a bat in his hand with two outs and the bases loaded in the
MILWAUKEE -- There comes a point in some baseball games at which recording outs is more important than scoring runs. When that moment arrived Friday, it meant Corey Knebel found himself striding to home plate with a bat in his hand with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
Knebel hadn't made that walk since he was 18 years old at Georgetown (Texas) High School, home of the Eagles.
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Now Knebel is 26, and he was heading to home plate in front of 43,619 fans at Miller Park, home of the Brewers, a team that needed to win this game -- spoiler: they did, 7-2 over the Dodgers -- for a chance to play one more game for a trip to the World Series.
"To be honest, that's why I'm glad I'm a pitcher and not a manager," said Knebel. "Because that was a tough decision right there."
Game 6 continued what has been a series full of intriguing chess matches between the two managers, and Knebel was in the middle of it all.
Flash back to the top of that fifth inning, when Dodgers pinch-hitter James Dozier snapped Brewers starter Wade Miley's streak of eight batters retired in a row by taking a four-pitch walk. When David Freese cut Los Angeles' deficit to 5-2 and Miley walked Player Page for Max Muncy on four more pitches to bring the tying run to the plate with one out, manager Craig Counsell decided it was time to tap the bullpen, so he called for Knebel.
The right-hander has served as Milwaukee's middle-inning stopper since he was given a 10-day break in late August and early September, and he found himself pitching in a typical high-leverage spot Friday. Counsell wanted multiple innings from Knebel, but he didn't double-switch because it would have meant removing Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich or Ryan Braun. He wasn't willing to make that trade.
Knebel drew Justin Turner and Manny Machado, and he retired them both. Turner flied out to center field and Machado struck out on a foul tip.
So far, so good.
But then the Brewers went ahead and put together a scoring threat in the bottom of the inning against Dodgers reliever Alex Wood. The lefty walked Travis Shaw leading off the frame and hit Erik Kratz with two outs ahead of No. 8 hitter Orlando Arcia. Counsell sent Domingo Santana to the on-deck circle, but L.A. manager Dave Roberts sensed a bluff and was right. When the Dodgers intentionally walked Arcia to load the bases, Counsell called back Santana before he was announced and sent up Knebel, who had no at-bats in college, the Minor Leagues or the Majors.
"I had no intention of taking him out," Counsell said. "You're hoping something crazy happens. You're hoping he walks, really. I thought he took a decent swing. And then a not-so-decent swing."
First, Knebel needed a helmet (Hernan Perez's did the trick), batting gloves (Perez again) and a bat. Arcia obliged.
"My hands were shaking," Knebel said. "I was nervous."
Knebel took ball one. Then strike one. Then he swung through back-to-back offerings just like Counsell said. One good, one not so good.
"I said to him, 'Now you know how hard it is to hit that high fastball,'" Perez said.
Said fellow reliever Josh Hader: "I thought he was going to take it yard, hit a [grand slam]."
Instead, Knebel struck out, but that kept him in the game to pitch a scoreless sixth as Counsell pieced together the outs he needed with a Game 7 in the back of his mind. He did so without using Hader aside from a few warmup pitches in the bullpen. Hader will be well-rested for Game 7, and Knebel will also be available after throwing 25 pitches over his 1 2/3 innings.
"All the criticism, whatever they've been saying about 'Couns,' hey, I'd like to see you go out there and be in that spot," Knebel said. "Being a National League manager is the toughest job in sports."
Almost as tough as hitting. Which reminded us to ask if Knebel remembered the outcome of his last at-bat in high school.
"If I had to guess, I would say it was a homer," he said with a big laugh.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.