MILWAUKEE -- Trevor Bauer cracked a cold one. The Brewers cracked homers.
Bauer won a bet with the Brewing Company Which Shall Not Be Named At Miller Park when he set a Reds strikeout record, but the slumping Brewers won the game, breaking out the bats against the MLB ERA leader in a 4-2 victory on Monday.
Smoak snapped the Brewers’ streak of first-inning futility with an RBI single, then he hit a two-run home run in the third after Bauer mimed chugging a beer to celebrate his 46th strikeout of 2020 -- a Reds record for a pitcher in his first five outings. Narváez went deep in the fourth inning for his first home run in a Brewers uniform, and Milwaukee held on to snap a four-game losing streak with a victory in the opener of a 10-game homestand.
“The cleanest game we’ve played in a while,” said Brewers starter Brett Anderson, who tossed his second consecutive quality start.
They needed it.
“One hundred percent,” Smoak said. “Especially after the last three days in Pittsburgh. That's not who we are as a team.”
This is more of what the Brewers thought they were getting in December, when they acquired Narváez from the Mariners and signed Smoak to a one-year deal with a club option for a second season. But the duo has been among the slew of Brewers hitters off to a frigid start this summer, with Smoak striking out at a clip north of 30 percent and Narváez ranking in just the third percentile among MLB hitters in hard-hit rate.
“We have talented players, we have track records, we have guys who've performed,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said Monday afternoon. “These are our guys. We're counting on them. These are the guys we're going to go with, and I think these are the guys who ultimately can get it done.”
From the start, it was a different kind of day. Scoring first, and scoring in the first inning, represented significant victories for the Brewers, whose opponents had scored first in 20 of their first 26 games, in part because Milwaukee hitters entered the day slashing .128/.227/.198 in the opening frame. (In defense of the Brewers’ first-inning hitters, they were a lot better than the team’s second-inning hitters, who entered with a .116/.174/.186 slash line.)
As a result, Milwaukee had been outscored in the first inning this season, 17-2, and in the second inning, 20-3. Before Monday, they hadn’t scored a first-inning run in 11 straight games.
Baseball being baseball, naturally the Brewers struck first against Bauer, one of the three or four best pitchers in the NL so far this season. He entered with a Majors-best 0.68 ERA, had not allowed more than one run in any of his four starts, had allowed two home runs in 26 1/3 innings and had pitched at least six innings while allowing three or fewer hits each time out. The Brewers touched him up for four earned runs on seven hits, including two homers, in 6 1/3 innings.
Brewers fans watching at home wondered why Bauer spent the early innings writing letters in the dirt behind the mound. After Sonny Gray set a Reds record with 45 strikeouts through his first five starts, Bauer responded on social media with, “Hold my beer.” The country’s largest brewery vowed that should Bauer break the record, it would put out a line called the “Cincinnati Buds,” and sure enough, each time Bauer logged one of the four strikeouts he needed to tie Gray, he scratched a letter on the mound, eventually spelling "B-U-D-S." When Bauer struck out Avisaíl García in the third inning to break the Reds' mark, the right-hander cracked open an imaginary can and took a sip.
Three batters later, Smoak homered to the second deck in right field to grow a 1-0 Brewers lead into 3-0.
The lesson? Drink local.
“Trying to make the game entertaining, give fans something to tune in to watch, trying to bring excitement back to baseball,” Bauer said. “If you’re going to do it when you’re pitching well and enjoy it, then when you do it and you lose, you have to kind of wear it.”
“I did not see that,” said Smoak. “There's a lot of stuff going on these days. I'm just trying to see it and hit it, and that's it.”
More of the same would be a big boost to the Brewers’ offense.
“The biggest thing, honestly, is trying to slow down, back up and let the ball come to me,” Smoak said. “Early on, I was striking out a lot. It was pretty epic.”
The same went for Narváez.
“I feel like it’s better technique and calming myself down in the box,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got a little more time to make a decision before I swing. I like the place I am right now, and hopefully I keep it going.”