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Birthday boy Hader gets 8-out save vs. Cubs

Lefty takes care of business in the 7th against Bryant, Rizzo and was perfect rest of way
@AdamMcCalvy
April 7, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- It was a matchup worth the price of admission. Brewers reliever Josh Hader against Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo. Lefty on lefty. All-Star on All-Star. Power on power. Hader won the battle, and the Brewers won the game. Celebrating his 25th birthday, Hader struck out Rizzo with high heat

MILWAUKEE -- It was a matchup worth the price of admission. Brewers reliever Josh Hader against Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo. Lefty on lefty. All-Star on All-Star. Power on power.

Hader won the battle, and the Brewers won the game.

Celebrating his 25th birthday, Hader struck out Rizzo with high heat to strand a pair of Cubs runners on base in the seventh inning, then channeled his inner Rollie Fingers to complete a rare eight-up, eight-down save in the Brewers’ 4-2 win over the Cubs on Sunday at Miller Park.

“He's the best in the business,” said Rizzo. “He brings it. He's not scared.”

What Hader finished, Christian Yelich began with career home run No. 100, a two-run shot off Kyle Hendricks in the first inning that started a three-RBI afternoon. The Brewers are 8-2 after a third straight series victory to begin 2019, and have won 15 of their last 16 regular season series dating to last year.

Fans united in good cause throw out first pitch

The pitchers regained control Sunday after the teams combined for 45 runs and 15 home runs in a pair of slugfests to start the weekend series. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras halved the Brewers’ early 4-0 lead with a two-run home run in the sixth off Zach Davies, and Chicago was threatening again in the seventh when Brewers manager Craig Counsell replaced one lefty (Alex Claudio) with another in Hader to face the heart of the order. Hader, pitching for the first time in five days, fired his firmest fastball of the season at 98.3 mph on the way to inducing a Bryant pop-out before touching 98.4 mph during an eight-pitch battle with Rizzo that ended with a strikeout on a fastball up and in.

“The Rizzo at-bat, that’s just good baseball, man,” said Counsell. “Rizzo gives him tough at-bats. That’s great baseball.”

Said Rizzo: “He's coming at you. He's coming right at you. Those at-bats, for me, they're a lot of fun, because that's who you want. It's usually a big situation, which it was. I had a good at-bat -- just came up short."

There’s history between the two. Last season, as the Cubs and Brewers were battling all the way to a Game 163 to decide the National League Central, Rizzo connected against Hader for a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning of the teams’ Sept. 3 thriller at Miller Park. Milwaukee came back to win, 4-3.

Four weeks later, on Oct. 1 at Wrigley Field, Rizzo hit against Hader with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning representing the tying run with the division on the line. A fly out to deep center field sealed the division crown for Milwaukee.

“Rizzo’s the one guy who seems to see him pretty well,” said Yelich.

Hader said he enjoys the challenge.

“We always go back and forth,” Hader said. “He got me a couple of times. In general, that’s the fun thing about pitching. There are going to be days when you execute your pitch and they still hit it. … I just enjoy being out there and being able to pitch.”

Hader threw 13 pitches that inning, 10 pitches in a perfect eighth that began with a strikeout of Javier Baez, and 13 more pitches in the ninth to seal a fifth save in as many chances.

With three more strikeouts Sunday, Hader has whiffed 13 of the 25 men he’s faced this season.

“He's great. He's a great pitcher,” said Baez. “We've got to make the adjustment to beat him. Obviously, we're going to see him a lot. We've been facing him for over a year now, so we just have to make the adjustment.”

Yelich is off to a stellar start, with five home runs and 13 RBIs to lead the team so far, but Hader is arguably the Brewers’ most valuable player with Corey Knebel out for the season following elbow surgery and Jeremy Jeffress still working back from a shoulder issue.

The Brewers expect to have Jeffress back in the bullpen when they return home from a West Coast road trip that begins Monday night in Anaheim. Until then, Hader is carrying a significant bullpen load.

“We rode him for a pretty long time out there,” Yelich said. “You know when he has that much rest that he’s going to come in there and be pretty good.”

Counsell did have Junior Guerra warming up in case Hader encountered trouble. Trouble never found him.

“Really, after Rizzo gave him that tough at-bat, I wasn’t sure we were going to get [Hader] through the ninth,” Counsell said. “But he had an efficient eighth, so you go back out there. …

“Look, he’s got limits. There’s definitely going to be limits. But today, with the rest, we were in a good scenario with him.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.