'Little flinch' results in a costly balk for Crew

Brewers fall to Giants, but Lauer gets on track with dominant 7-inning outing

July 17th, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Brewers found themselves in an eerily familiar situation on Saturday afternoon: The Giants had loaded the bases in the late innings at Oracle Park, with Mike Yastrzemski at the plate.

The night before, Yastrzemski had stunned Milwaukee by hitting a walk-off grand slam to complete a comeback win for San Francisco.

But this time, Yastrzemski didn't have to lift a finger, as Brewers reliever Jandel Gustave balked in a run in the eighth. Gustave's first career balk -- the Crew's third this season -- turned out to be the difference in a 2-1 loss to the Giants, undoing an afternoon of strong pitching in one small motion.

Gustave was left unsure about what exactly constituted the balk, as he and fellow reliever Brent Suter huddled around a phone after the game to watch the play in detail. It didn't make things much clearer for them or manager Craig Counsell.

"Apparently, they saw a little flinch when he came up, something that wasn't normal," Counsell said. "The guy saw a balk, he called it."

Crew chief Bruce Dreckman offered this explanation to a pool reporter: "The plate umpire saw a start and stop, and that was basically what happened. It was pretty much a rulebook, textbook balk. Pretty cut and dried. ... When they start bringing their hands up, they can't just bring them up and stop in mid-stroke of their pitching delivery."

After two tough losses, this series in San Francisco is shaping up to be frustrating for the Brewers. But left-hander Eric Lauer's stellar outing after a stretch of challenging starts provided a bright spot.

Lauer's 2022 season has been a tale of ups and downs. He began the campaign as one of the National League's best starters, going 5-1 with a 2.38 ERA in his first 10 starts.

Then came what was Lauer's toughest outing of the year in an 8-6 loss to the Nationals on June 11, when he gave up a career-high-tying eight earned runs. Including that start, Lauer had scuffled over his previous six outings entering Saturday, going 1-2 with a 6.34 ERA.

Lauer dazzled vs. the Giants, matching San Francisco starter Alex Cobb in a pitchers' duel that remained scoreless until the sixth, when Darin Ruf swatted a solo home run off of an elevated pitch from Lauer out of the zone.

"We were trying to set something up there, and he jumped on it," Lauer said. "So tip a cap to him."

Lauer ended the day having tossed seven innings of one-run, two-hit ball, one of his most impressive performances of late. But he walked away feeling as if he could have done more.

"I think it could have been better," Lauer said. "I was locating well early, but I didn't feel like I had great stuff all day. … But yeah, it's nice to be able to grind one out and get through seven."

Counsell had a more favorable assessment of Lauer's outing: "I just thought he was on the attack. His fastball was really crisp today. We saw some big velo numbers."

The Brewers have now lost two straight games that they feel were winnable. They hold the top spot in the NL Central by one game, as the Cardinals have slowly made up ground in the division.

But the upcoming All-Star break will offer a key opportunity for most of the Crew to take some much-needed time off and reset. And though Saturday's outcome wasn't ideal, Lauer kept his head up and appreciated just how unpredictable the game can be.

"It's just baseball," Lauer said. "That's what's cool about this sport, is that stuff like that can happen every day. You can always see something that you've never seen before in baseball, which is really cool.

"You wish those things go your way a little more often than they have for us, but we've just got to keep grinding."