Lauer rewards Counsell's confidence in gem

September 8th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- Daniel Vogelbach stood in the on-deck circle, Brent Suter threw in the bullpen and it looked like Eric Lauer’s night was done. Lauer was pitching a two-hit shutout, but the Brewers had a chance to add to their three-run lead with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning on Tuesday. Vogelbach was two days removed from hitting a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam. Suter was no stranger to pitching in the seventh inning with a lead.

But that’s not how the Brewers decided to play it.

Vogelbach returned to the dugout so Lauer could hit for himself, and the left-hander worked a run-scoring walk before Kolten Wong delivered a two-run single to bust open a 10-0 win over the Phillies at American Family Field.

“It’s definitely uplifting to know that we believe we’re in a position where I can continue to go out there and throw,” Lauer said.

Still, something didn’t feel right.

“It was a little weird walking out there and getting booed because Vogey was supposed to hit,” Lauer said with a smile. “Everybody obviously wants to see him hit another grand slam. But I was like, ‘Hey, let me try to hit a grand slam. Give me a chance!’”

Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff have started for the Brewers on this homestand but the team’s two best performances this week have come from Adrian Houser, who pitched the team’s first nine-inning shutout in more than 1,000 games on Saturday against the Cardinals, and Lauer, who cleared seven scoreless innings in 87 pitches on Tuesday while scattering four hits and one walk with five strikeouts.

It was a second consecutive gem for Lauer, who completed seven innings in consecutive starts for the first time in his career. Five days earlier in San Francisco, he held the Giants to a run on three hits in seven innings. Lauer has a 1.85 ERA in his last 11 outings.

“Every time he takes the ball we feel like we have a chance to win,” said Christian Yelich, who matched his season high with three hits and was one of four players to drive in multiple runs. “He stepped up in some big bounce-back games for us like he did today. Tough one for us yesterday, but he got us right back on track.”

Tough one was putting it mildly. The Brewers lost their series opener to the Phillies on Monday, 12-0. According to Elias, it was the first time since 2006 that teams traded double-digit shutouts in a series; the last instance was in this ballpark, a Reds-Brewers series in 2006. 

The Brewers have shut out the opponent 17 times this season, most in the Majors and third-most in franchise history. The 1971 Brewers won 69 games all year but 23 were shutouts. The 1978 Brewers had 19 shutouts.  

“Our success has been with our entire pitching staff,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “These guys are taking the ball the same number of times that Brandon, Corbin and Freddy are. It’s meaningful. They’re pitching good games; they’re getting deep into games. That obviously means a lot. They’re putting up, most importantly, zeroes. Those lead to wins.”

The way Lauer was pitching, Counsell said, the seventh inning was his. Sending Vogelbach to the on-deck circle was just a decoy.

“I thought the way he had been pitching, he was the candidate to get through the seventh inning,” Counsell said. “And he did.”

Lauer campaigned to go beyond the seventh.

“Oh yeah,” Lauer said. “I told him as soon as he said something [about going to the bullpen], ‘Come on, I’m trying to beat Houser here, man. I’m trying to outdo a guy and you’re taking me out. Give me a chance at least. The bottom of the order’s coming up, I’m feeling good, pitch count’s low -- let me rock and roll.’ But obviously there’s way more that goes into it. That’s why ‘Couns’ makes the decisions and not me, because I might have gotten a little emotional about it.”

It took them six tries, but the Brewers finally beat the Phillies in 2021 with contributions from up and down the lineup. Wong, Eduardo Escobar (two-run double in the third inning), Avisaíl García (two-run homer in the seventh) and Yelich (RBI single in the third, RBI double in the eighth) drove in two runs apiece, and eight different players scored at least one run as the Brewers knocked their magic number to clinch the National League Central down to 12 with 22 games to go.

“You still have to keep your edge,” Yelich said. “It's different because we're not six games back right now like we have been in the past, in the middle of the race or playing for the Wild Card. … You have to finish this thing through, all the way to the finish line and see what happens.”