SEATTLE -- There’s nothing like 10 games in 10 days out west to bring a team together, but the Brewers have been a well-connected crew for a while now.
They showed it again on Wednesday afternoon at T-Mobile Park, with Eric Lauer pitching within one out of the ninth inning in his best outing of the year, the hitters coming alive for five runs on six hits in a seventh-inning rally highlighted by Brice Turang’s go-ahead single and Peter Strzelecki and Matt Bush filling in for closer Devin Williams at the end of a 5-3 win over the Mariners.
Talk about a fittingly balanced finish to Milwaukee’s first series sweep in Seattle since 1989, and a 7-3 road trip through Arizona, San Diego and Seattle.
“We played three good baseball teams, and we played well,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I don’t know if you can pick one guy on the trip. That’s what makes it a great trip.”
It’s just the way Counsell drew it up. Veteran infielder Brian Anderson, the organizational newcomer and early-season team RBI leader, shared one of the ways coaches tried to build clubhouse camaraderie in Spring Training -- a delicate thing, since it doesn’t work if perceived as phony or forced.
“‘Couns’ had guys meet with different guys on the team, maybe a guy they wouldn’t talk to normally,” Anderson said. “Go have lunch with them, talk to them, get to know them.”
When Lauer was asked about the exercise, he smiled and said, “Our dates?”
Anderson’s lunch date was Rule 5 reliever Gus Varland. In a matchup of new guys, Jesse Winker learned everything there is to know about the family of reliever Joel Payamps over dinner at Steak 44, one of the best spots in Phoenix. Christian Yelich had lunch with reliever Javy Guerra. Brandon Woodruff picked up the dinner tab for Turang at BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse.
“It’s going to change throughout the season; you’re going to go through ups and downs,” Anderson said. “But this team has been really good about sticking together on and off the field, especially on this long road trip. Guys are away from their families and all of that, so we’re leaning on each other when stuff’s going wrong.”
Lauer’s lunch sidekick was catcher Victor Caratini. They picked up enough chicken at Raising Cane’s to share with the athletic training staff at American Family Fields of Phoenix.
“We all sat around the table and ate and talked and hung out,” Lauer said. “It was to put guys who you normally wouldn’t talk to too much, or just to learn something new about a teammate.”
“I think that was a conscious thing on the staff side,” Anderson said. “It’s definitely something that didn’t happen for me the last couple of years. Guys had their own little cliques. Here, you see everyone interacting with everyone.”
Said Turang: “We just trust everybody. There’s not a guy here where I’m like, ‘I don’t trust him at the plate or trust him on the mound.’ When you feel that your teammates trust you, it only helps you stay confident, stay focused. It’s been a great time.”
The Brewers had a great time on the sixth 10-game road trip in franchise history in which the team came home with at least seven victories. Lauer did much of the heavy lifting in the finale while topping out at 91.2 mph, compared to his 93.3 mph average on his fastball last season. In a duel with Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzales, Lauer was brilliant for 7 2/3 innings thanks to his cutter, a more prominent pitch for him this season while he waits for the velocity to come.
“Probably more adapting to what’s going on,” Lauer said. “We’re still pushing to get the velo, but my focus is more on being a complete pitcher, being able to execute pitches and command the strike zone.”
The Crew needed that kind of outing. Wednesday marked the conclusion of 13 consecutive game days, and the bullpen was hard-worked. Williams -- who delivered a 33-pitch save in San Diego on Sunday, warmed up on Monday and then tossed a scoreless inning on Tuesday -- lobbied to pitch again, but Counsell decided it was best to give him a day of rest.
“Number one, we got a great pitching performance from Eric Lauer,” Counsell said. “There’s days when you come to the park when you really need your starter.”
It’s just another way the Brewers are all connected.
“All of us together,” Turang said. “This wasn’t just a one-man show. We all came in together and we all played and competed every pitch, and we came out with the win. That’s what we need to continue to do.”