MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun’s three-run home run in the Brewers’ power-packed 9-1 win over the Pirates on Friday night was his 800th career extra-base hit, another milestone in a tangled but undoubtedly prolific career.
Before he pondered another round of questions about legacy, Braun had a few words about the moment -- and how the Brewers began the mathematical second half of their regular season in such a dramatically different way than the first half ended, with a dud of a doubleheader against the Reds the day before.
“We had a really good hitters meeting today,” Braun said. “I think we kind of viewed today as the start of our September.”
All players wore No. 42 on Friday as the teams and all of Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day.
Braun has more extra-base hits than such Milwaukee mainstays as Greg Vaughn, Dave Nilsson, Sixto Lezcano and Jeromy Burnitz tallied hits, period, in a Brewers uniform. In fact, only 16 other players have more total hits for the Brewers than Braun has extra-base hits over his 14 seasons. The only man in franchise history with more extra-base hits is Robin Yount, who still ranks in the top 50 in baseball history with 960. Braun won’t top that club record, but he’s already five years removed from breaking Yount’s club home run record in 2015.
The laser beam of a three-run home run that Braun hit off Pirates left-hander Derek Holland in the third inning on Friday -- 110.5 mph off the bat, never more than 52 feet off the ground, according to Statcast -- was the 346th homer of Braun’s career. He’s in MLB’s top 100 all-time and fifth among active players behind Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnación and Nelson Cruz. He’s fourth among active players in extra-base hits, behind Pujols, Cabrera and Robinson Canó.
It was Braun’s 1,945th hit, meaning he will probably have to play another season if he wants to take a run at 2,000. Braun is in the final guaranteed year of a contract that includes a $15 million mutual option for 2021 with a $4 million buyout.
But the number of the night was 800.
“Eight hundred hits is a lot for a big league player, so 800 extra-base hits puts that in pretty good perspective,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I remember days in the prime of Ryan’s career -- I’m getting nostalgic -- this is what he would do. When there was a left-handed starter in the game, he was going to deliver a big hit. It was cool to see tonight.”
It was the at-bat of the game, Counsell said. The Brewers had a 1-0 lead thanks to Gyorko’s first-inning home run -- only the Brewers’ fourth run in 31 first innings so far -- and put the first two batters of the third inning on base against Holland. The left-hander has given Milwaukee trouble this year, and he struck out Keston Hiura and Gyorko, then worked back to a full count against Braun after falling into a 3-0 hole. Holland was a strike away from taking a 1-0 game to the fourth. Instead, Braun connected.
On other milestone nights, Braun has deferred the context for a later date when his playing career is over. Might he be more in tune to his legacy in 2020, when he and wife, Larisa, welcomed a third child while the sport was on pause for the pandemic?
“I would say I'm probably less in tune with moments like this because everything is so drastically different in every imaginable way,” Braun said.
But Brewers are intent on recreating recent Septembers. They went 20-7 from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season in each of the last two years, winning the National League Central in 2018 and the second NL Wild Card in ’19.
It will take another strong finish to make something of 2020. They are 14-17.
“It's well documented that this season's different in so many different ways, and I do think it's been a challenge for us,” Braun said. “We haven't been good enough at making the adjustment. It's a completely different atmosphere and environment. There's less adrenaline and focus and intensity than any of us have ever experienced in our years in the game. We need to be better at adjusting to the current circumstances. Today was an encouraging start to that.”
Is it really that easy? “Flip a switch,” as Braun put it?
“It doesn’t work like flipping a switch, no,” Counsell said. “But I do think they decided to enjoy what they’re doing here. We’ve got 30 games left. It’s not a long time. Try to make the most of these 30 games.”