Brewers' Contreras 'stole the show' vs. brother, Cards

April 20th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- If you squinted hard enough at Busch Stadium on Friday night, you could almost see a cloud of dust at home plate in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, the coastal town west of Caracas where the Contreras brothers grew up. Maybe they played out the same scenario as boys, Willson chugging home while kid brother William tried to stop him from scoring.

The younger brother won the moment and the game, a 10-inning, 2-1 Brewers’ victory over the Cardinals in which William Contreras drove in both Milwaukee runs and was involved in the defensive play of the night to help settle the first meeting of the season between these retooled National League Central rivals.

In this battle of brothers, on a night of managers maneuvering and bullpens bending, William “stole the show,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said.

“He earned his money tonight,” Murphy said. “And he’s going to earn a lot more, I promise you.”

The Contreras brothers’ fingerprints were all over the game, with William ripping an RBI double over third base in the third inning for the only run in the game until the Cardinals rallied with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, then reclaiming the lead for Milwaukee with a two-out RBI single in the top of the 10th. On the other side, there was Willson Contreras reaching safely four times, including a walk in a tense sixth inning when the Cardinals pushed Brewers starter Freddy Peralta to the brink, and an intentional walk in the 10th when he represented the winning run.

But before the late drama, much of the fun on Friday night was crammed into the bottom of the second inning, when Willson singled to start a Cardinals rally. Two Peralta pitches later, William made a snap throw to first base in an effort to catch Willson before he could get back to the bag. The throw was late, and Willson applauded the effort by saluting his brother with a thumbs-up.

Two batters later with two outs, Willson was at second base and took off when a strike three got past William and rolled all the way to the backstop. Willson rounded third and kept going while William chased it, and Peralta charged to cover the plate. Everything converged at once. Willson slid, tackling Peralta in the process, but the Brewers pitcher held on for an inning-ending out.

“He hit me really, really hard,” said Peralta, who tweaked his knee in the process. “I felt it and I was scared and all that, but five seconds later I knew I was able to move my leg. [Willson] grabbed me on both legs, like, trying to protect me after he hit me. Then I fell down. But I’m OK.”

“He’ll feel it tomorrow,’ Murphy said.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol didn’t fault Willson for trying to score.

“He took a chance, and it didn’t work out, unfortunately,” Marmol said. “He took a shot because he thought he could make it.”

Both Contreras brothers have earned the right to make their own decisions all over the field. Willson is handling a remade Cardinals pitching staff, and William, though just 26, is suddenly a veteran in a Brewers lineup that most nights is composed of more than half first- and second-year hitters.

“We talk almost every day,” Willson said. “Our relationship is super close, we love each other and we help each other. And the good thing is that we count on each other. It’s just a really healthy professional rivalry where he’s trying to win it for his team and I’m trying to win it for the Cardinals. We don’t share many thoughts before the games; we just go out there and compete.”

The older Contreras reached in the second inning on an opposite-field single -- a hit that extended a couple of career-best streaks for him. It pushed his on-base streak to 24 games and his hitting streak to 12 games.

However, the area of biggest improvement for the Cardinals catcher has been his work behind the plate while framing pitches -- something Willson credits William for helping him with at their winter home in Orlando, Fla. In 2023, Willson ranked 30th out of 43 qualified catchers in getting borderline pitches for strikes just 44.5 percent of the time. So far this season, Willson improved his frequency of getting borderline calls to 47.5 percent, per Baseball Savant.

“I learned a lot from him,” Willson said.

Naturally, the brothers were in the middle of Friday’s action right to the end. After the Cardinals paid a price for challenging William in the top of the 10th inning, the Brewers opted against doing the same with Willson in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and the tying runner at third, Murphy called for left-hander Hoby Milner to intentionally walk Willson -- even though that meant putting the potential winning run on base.

It worked. Milner secured the save that had slipped away from fellow Brewers relievers Trevor Megill and Joel Payamps in the ninth, striking out Nolan Gorman to end Gorman’s 0-for-5, four-strikeout night.

It was Milner’s first Major League save in his 242nd appearance, and William Contreras was the first one to greet him.

“I’m really excited for both of them, for the [Contreras] parents, too,” Peralta said. “Being in a big league game, both catchers. You see it and you feel good about it. I have a younger brother, too. He’s in the Minors and he’s a pitcher, too. The feeling they probably have, that’s something I would like to have, too.”