MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich used his legs. Lorenzo Cain used his head. And the Brewers used the Cubs' big mistake to double their lead Tuesday night on the way back to first place in the National League Central.Cain's baserunning brilliance helped the Brewers escape a rundown before Travis Shaw delivered
MILWAUKEE -- Christian Yelich used his legs. Lorenzo Cain used his head. And the Brewers used the Cubs' big mistake to double their lead Tuesday night on the way back to first place in the National League Central.
Cain's baserunning brilliance helped the Brewers escape a rundown before Travis Shaw delivered the second of his two-run doubles in Milwaukee's 4-0 win, the latest installment of an entertaining series between the NL's top two teams.
"Flat-out brilliant," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. "I've never seen anything like that. He knew exactly what he was doing. I had no idea what he was planning on doing, but it was amazing. You talk about seeing the court, seeing the floor, as a basketball analogy. That's seeing the field and understanding what's happening."
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Cain was more understated.
"It was a nice play," he shrugged.
Yelich was at second base after a walk and an errant pickoff throw by Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood, whose troubles were just beginning. Cain was up next and hit a grounder over the mound that was picked up by second baseman Javier Baez.
Yelich was caught off the bag, so Baez threw to third to initiate a rundown. Yelich did his part by eluding the Cubs while Cain trotted toward second.
"At that point, we were in pretty good shape," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
But when it became apparent Yelich had a chance to get back to second base, Cain alertly recognized that first base had been left unoccupied. He even pointed at second to let Yelich know what he was thinking, then retreated to first.
Everybody was safe.
"I kind of had a feeling something was up when I saw him standing a foot off the bag," Yelich said with a grin. "I was like, 'What are you doing?'"
Cain had a plan.
"I heard him yelling, 'All the way back! All the way back!' He was yelling at me, pointing at the bag," Yelich said. "I just kept running hard and got there. That's a really smart play. He said it's something he's practiced before, which is unbelievable. I guess if you think about it, it happens a lot. There's a lot of throws in a rundown. Things kind of get chaotic and you can lose track of the bases sometimes.
"It was a great job on his part. He choreographed the whole thing, really."
Cain had practiced that play in Kansas City, where he came of age after the Brewers traded him to the Royals in a prospect package for Zack Greinke.
Somewhere in his years with the Royals, Cain worked through that exact scenario with longtime first-base coach Rusty Kuntz. Cain just never had a chance to put it into action.
It can work, Cain said, "as long as the guy in front of you is hustling. I just kind of peeked back and saw that [Cubs first baseman Anthony] Rizzo wasn't covering first. I guess he went home or somewhere."
Said Rizzo: "We were just talking about it. I have to read [catcher] Willson [Contreras]. Willson was at third, so I'm the one who is supposed to protect home. [Yelich] kind of stopped halfway; they ran back. It was just a freak play."
"Rules of engagement," Maddon said, "are run the runner hard, see the numbers on his back, grass to grass, dirt to dirt, the infielders get on the same side so you're not throwing across the runner nor are you going to cross in front of him and get interference. Those are the rules. We had it going well until the very end. We had too many people at second base and did not cover first, and that's what broke down."
Chatwood wound up with the baseball at second base, surrounded by third baseman Kristopher Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora Jr. and right fielder Jason Heyward. Almora put his hands on his head.
"I don't think I've ever been part of anything like that," Chatwood said. "It happens."
Shaw cashed in with his second double for a 4-0 lead.
Those runs represented something of a windfall after the Brewers were outscored by a 36-11 margin while losing eight of their first nine matchups with the Cubs this season, including seven in a row before Tuesday.
"Every run was huge tonight," Cain said. "The Cubs have had our number this season, so to get runs off them was huge."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.