Inside the inning when Brandon Woodruff’s swing rocked the NLCS
MILWAUKEE — The inning, which defined Game 1 of the National League Championship Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers, was about as unlikely as one you’ll see in baseball. But if Milwaukee wins the best-of-seven series, it might look back at Friday night’s third inning and know it was a gift from the baseball gods.
Going into the bottom of the third inning, the Dodgers were leading 1-0. To that point in the game, the Brewers had done little off Clayton Kershaw, as singles in both the first and second innings had lead to nothing on the scoreboard for the home team. Miller Park was quiet.
Then Brewers reliever Brandon Woodruff stepped to the plate.
“I was hoping he was the guy that was going to get the at-bat today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Woodruff. “Just kind of depended how it worked out, and it ended up being him.”
Counsell liked Woodruff at the plate because he had seen him hit a home run earlier in the year. And he simply had a good swing, which he showed off in batting practice before the game. The manager wasn’t the only one thinking positive thoughts.
“I swear, two people called it,” teammate Jacob Barnes declared. “Afterwards, I looked at them like ‘are you kidding me right now?’ It was a good swing. He’s been considered as a pinch hitter at times I think… It was impressive and a big momentum change.”
Players call home runs all the time but no one really believed Woodruff would turn on a Clayton Kershaw fastball and deposit it over 400 feet from home plate to tie the game, 1-1. It was surreal.
“It’s something, obviously, coming into the day you don’t know in your wildest dreams that that’s going to happen, to be able to get an at-bat off Kershaw and hit a home run,” Woodruff said.
It was the first home run in postseason history hit by a lefty-hitting pitcher off a left-handed hurler. And when that starter is named Kershaw, it takes the ‘wow’ factor to another level.
“To see the ball go out of the ballpark against Clayton, obviously, that was a surprise to all of us,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The home run was just the start of a surprising inning, which would result in just one more run scoring for the Brewers, but considering the 6-5 final margin of victory, every moment in that dreadful second inning for L.A. was meaningful.
As you might expect, after a pitcher serves up a home run to another pitcher, Kershaw may have lost some focus. He gave a up second pitch base hit to Lorenzo Cain then walked Christian Yelich on a full count. This is where Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal began to melt down.
One out later, a passed ball moved the runners up ninety feet as Jesus Aguilar stood in the box. It was already Grandal’s second passed ball of the game, which would lead to another really strange play. As Aguilar crushed a line drive towards first base, David Freese made a spectacular diving catch — except that it didn’t count. Grandal was called for catcher’s interference, sending Aguilar to first base.
“It was a weird play,” he said. “A back-door slider coming back to the strike zone. Sometimes you get hit (in the catcher’s glove). It doesn’t happen very often but it just happened there.”
The really strange part is Aguilar didn’t realize he had hit Grandal’s glove. The power in his contact wasn’t diminished as he was ready to return to the dugout until home-plate umpire Scott Barry told him to take first.
“I didn’t even know I hit it,” Aguilar said. “I was surprised when they told me.”
So was Grandal.
“I didn’t feel it,” he stated.
Roberts tried to argue, but to no avail. Instead of two men on and two outs, the Brewers had the bases loaded and one out.
“It’s more magnified in the postseason because you have slo-mo cameras,” Brewers catcher Erik Kratz said of the catcher’s interference.
Replays showed it barely nicked his glove. Hernan Perez‘s ensuing sacrifice fly gave the Brewers the lead for good but even though Cain crossed the plate easily, it still provided for another tough moment for Grandal.
“Oh yeah,” Aguilar said. “That’s where we got to move up a base.”
Grandal whiffed on receiving the throw in from center fielder Cody Bellinger, as the ball got by him, allowing Yelich and Aguilar to move up ninety ft. It was his second error of the inning.
“It hit off the side of his glove,” Kratz observed. “When it rains it pours. You feel for him.”
Grandal is the first catcher in postseason history to have two passed balls and two errors in the same game. Three of those moments came in that fateful second inning which loomed even larger considering the Dodgers late comeback.
“You know, the catcher’s interference, that was something that very freak thing, and the relay, it’s a play that I know that Yasmani will say he should have made,” Roberts said. “But it’s just one of those things that unfortunately he didn’t make the plays that I know he expects to make.”
An unexpected home run, a catcher’s interference play and a passed ball made the difference in Game 1. If any one of those things fails to happen there’s no telling what the outcome on Friday would have been. The Brewers are grateful they didn’t have to find out. They made — and got — the breaks.
“A very unlikely inning, no doubt,” Kratz said.
October 13, 2018 at 12:16AM