The Brewers turned a one-run deficit into a three-run lead against Madison Bumgarner and the Giants in a tense sixth inning Sunday, punctuated by Jonathan Schoop's two-out grand slam that sent Milwaukee to a 6-3 win and a three-game sweep at Miller Park.
"I heard the dugout went pretty crazy," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
He only "heard" because Counsell had just been ejected with two Brewers players, but more on that in a moment. What's more important is that with their 14th win in 19 games, the 82-62 Brewers moved 20 games over .500 for the first time since the end of 2011 and pulled within two games of the National League Central-leading Cubs ahead of a critical three-game set at Wrigley Field that begins Monday night.
In the NL Wild Card standings, the Brewers remained comfortably in the top spot, 2 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals and at least 3 1/2 games ahead of the rest of the field.
Bumgarner had retired 15 consecutive batters since Ryan Braun's RBI double in the first inning and was pitching with a 2-1 lead when Christian Yelich worked a two-out walk in the sixth and Jesus Aguilar singled. Up next was Braun, who engaged Bumgarner in a staredown after the left-hander fired two straight pitches high and tight.
The next pitch hit Braun on the left shoulder, prompting words between the two, while Milwaukee's dugout emptied and warnings to both teams were issued by plate umpire Tom Hallion. Before play resumed, Hallion ejected Counsell for arguing that warning, then tossed left-hander Wade Miley and emergency catcher Jacob Nottingham from the bench. Miley is scheduled to start Monday's opener in Chicago.
Once Bumgarner finally got back on the mound, he fell behind Schoop, 2-1, and threw a cutter down and in, which Schoop smashed to left field for the Brewers' fourth grand slam this season, part of a five-RBI afternoon.
"I was a little bit mad," said Schoop of the preceding brouhaha. "But I was calming myself down and saying, 'Don't let the moment get you. Just focus and breathe and calm yourself down so you can get a good pitch and put a good swing on it.'"
His teammates again spilled out of the dugout to meet Schoop at home plate, to the horror of first-base umpire Dan Bellino. He tried to shoo players back to the bench while the Brewers celebrated. Schoop said it reminded him of winter ball or the World Baseball Classic.
It was the biggest of a series of better moments of late for Schoop, who struggled badly in the wake of a July 31 trade with Baltimore. He entered Sunday batting .216 in a Brewers uniform, but is hitting .293 with four home runs, 15 RBIs and a .958 OPS in his last 16 games.
"One, it's a great moment for Schoop," said Counsell. "He hasn't probably got off to the start he wanted to get off to here, but with one swing of the bat, it becomes a huge moment in the season. That's No. 1. I'm happy for Jonathan.
"No. 2, look, we're facing a good pitcher who had been really tough on the day. It's a game-changing hit. Obviously, it creates a lot of energy, and I think you saw that from the guys."
It was the fourth grand slam off Bumgarner in a career that spans 249 regular-season starts, and the first he had allowed since 2016. It was enough to win, thanks to another strong showing by Brewers pitchers, beginning with Zach Davies' five innings of two-run ball and ending with Corey Knebel's four-out save.
"A moment I'll never forget," said Schoop. "I came here to help the team win."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED So what prompted Bumgarner to plunk Braun? The Brewers were convinced it was done with intent, even though it loaded the bases in a one-run game. But Bumgarner and Giants manager Bruce Bochy insisted that Bumgarner was merely trying to pitch inside.
"I had a real long at-bat my second at-bat, flew out, took a pretty good swing," he said. "I jogged by [Bumgarner] and I think maybe he thought I said something that I didn't say. I said, 'Good pitch, good battle,' something like that, and maybe he misunderstood me. I don't know."
It was in the next at-bat that Bumgarner started Braun with a fastball up and in, then another just as up, but not as in. They stared at each other, appeared to say a word or two, and then Bumgarner hit Braun with the most errant of his 95 pitches.
"I know what kind of hitter he is and he seems to see me pretty well," Bumgarner said, "so I know if it leaks back out over the plate, he's going to have a chance to do some damage."
Then he asked a reporter, "What are you saying? You asking if I hit him on purpose?"
Essentially, that was the question.
"I don't know if he thought I was trying to throw at him or what," Bumgarner said. "The second pitch was right over the middle of the plate, just up too much. He looked at me and I don't know what he's thinking or not thinking, but it didn't have any kind of effect on what I'm trying to do out there."
Braun said there was no history between the two, beyond what's in the box scores. Braun is 10-for-34 lifetime against Bumgarner with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs.
"I've always enjoyed the challenge of facing him," said Braun. "His competitiveness is one of the things that has made him one of the best pitchers of our generation. So I've always enjoyed the challenge of facing him. But any time you get a pitch thrown at your face, that's no fun."
KNEBEL CONTINUES SURGE After losing the closer role in early August and enduring a demotion to the Minor Leagues that bled into early September, it appears Knebel has re-established himself as a solid late-inning option for Counsell and the Brewers. Including his four-out, two-strikeout save on Sunday, Knebel has retired all 15 batters he's faced with 10 strikeouts in five appearances since being recalled.
Notably, Knebel closed out the sweep without necessitating a call for left-hander Josh Hader, who was warming in the bullpen. That means Hader and Jeremy Jeffress will be at full strength against the Cubs.
UP NEXT It's a matchup of left-handers as Miley starts for Milwaukee opposite the Cubs' Jon Lester at 7:05 p.m. CT on Monday in the opener of a three-game series that could go a long way to deciding the division race. Miley beat the Cubs last week at Miller Park with six innings of three-hit, one-run ball, and has allowed three or fewer runs in all 12 of his Brewers starts. Keep an eye on Braun; he's 8-for-18 lifetime against Lester with three doubles.