Freeman frees the Braves to await their NLCS opponent

Freddie Freeman

Jubilant Freddie Freeman approaches the plate to finish the eighth-inning bomb that held up to win the NLDS for the Braves Tuesday night.

Maybe it didn’t have quite the last-split-second hair raising quotient that the Red Sox’s final two American League division series wins had. But it wasn’t any less dramatic for Freddie Freeman and his Braves in winning their National League division series Tuesday.

Freeman’s eighth-inning tiebreaking home run off Brewers relief ace Josh Hader turned out the finishing blow in a set during which both teams scored as many runs in the first three games as they ended up scoring in Game Four alone.

What made the bomb so luminous, too, was that it was only the second time in the whole 145-year history of the franchise that any Brave delivered what proved a postseason series-winning hit in the eighth or later. It took one season shy of three decades for Freeman’s homer to join Francisco Cabrera’s National League Championship Series-winning base hit. (The fabled Sid Bream mad-broken-bodied-dash.)

“I’ve had a lot of cool moments in my career,” Freeman said postgame, “but so far I think that’s going to top them right there. But hopefully that’s not the last cool one.” Right now, nobody’s willing to bet too heavily against either Freeman or his Braves. Yet.

You heard all season long about this or that team being wracked by injuries and surrealities? Few had to compensate as heavily as the Braves did. Too many teams losing their number-two franchise player, one of their best young pitchers, and a reliable other power bat might have collapsed like a blimp.

The Braves lost Ronald Acuna, Jr. thanks to a torn ACL making a play in center field. They lost Mike Soroko after his Achilles tendon blew out in May—after nine months’ rehab following its initial 2020 tear. They looked as though their season had paid put to hit without once seeing .500.

They lost Marcell Ozuna when the outfielder/bombardier was arrested for domestic violence in July—charged first with felonious aggravated assault and attempted strangulation, charges reduced to misdemeanor simple assault and battery, on administrative leave through the end of the Braves’ season, after he entered a diversion program.

When Acuna went down, and the Braves more or less sputtered into and past the All-Star break, general manager Alex Anthopoulos made his first move, bringing former Dodger Joc Pederson aboard from the Cubs in exchange for a minor league prospect.

That was Pederson pinch hitting for Braves reliever Luke Jackson in the Game One eighth and hitting a solo home run off Brewers reliever Adrian Houser for the only Braves run in the only series loss. That was also Pederson in Game Three, pinch hitting for Braves starter Ian Anderson, facing Houser again, and launching the three-run homer that proved the only Game Three scoring.

Houser may start seeing Pederson in his sleep. The Braves just want to keep seeing him mash. Even if he got the Game Four start as his reward and had to settle for pushing home the first of the two runs that tied things at four with a ground out to second base.

Freeman thinks landing Pederson merely began the Braves’ reversal. “When Alex went out and got Joc,” he said, “it brought a sense of energy that it just showed us that they still believed in us, to go add at the deadline.” Which is exactly what Anthopolous did. He nailed three 30 July trades to bring Jorge Soler from the Royals, Adam Duvall from the Marlins, and Eddie Rosario from the Guardians-to-be.

The NL East wasn’t a powerful division to begin with. But the longtime-leading Mets imploded, the Nationals hit the reset button, and the Phillies proved just short of being able to hold on. In Atlanta, as proverbially and poetically as feasible, that which didn’t destroy the Braves only made them stronger.

They went 36-19 to finish the regular season, including a too-simple-seeming sweep of the Phillies opening the final week to keep them from finishing what they threatened awhile to do and overthrow the Braves. They even shook off Soler’s COVID diagnosis entering the postseason. Now they’ve dispatched a Brewers team that won seven more regular-season games to lead an only slightly stronger NL Central.

They’re waiting to see who’ll be the last men standing between the Dodgers and the Giants, after the Dodgers tied that division series in Los Angeles Tuesday night in an all-Dodgers/all-the-time 7-2 win.

The game was a still-manageable 2-0 Dodger lead, with the Giants compelled to a bullpen game against a short-rested but deadly effective Walker Buehler, when Mookie Betts checked in in the fourth against Jarlin Garcia—after Buehler himself led off by reaching on an infield error.

“It’s not something we want to do all the time,” said Buehler about going on only three days rest, “but I felt that if things didn’t go our way [in the third game], I would feel really weird not pitching a game that we could lose a series.”

He didn’t have to worry. Until he surrendered a leadoff single to Evan Longoria and a one-out walk to Steven Duggar in the fifth, Buehler pitched stoutly and had to shake only one previous first-and-second spot of trouble away in the second. He even had the Giants slightly flummoxed when he went to his changeup a little more often than they were accustomed to seeing from him.

When the Mookie Monster parked an 0-1 pitch into the right center field bleachers, it suddenly seemed a question not of whether but by how big the Dodgers would take the game. An inning later, Betts sent Cody Bellinger home with a sacrifice fly deep to left center field. But Dodger catcher Will Smith—just call him the Fresh Prince of Dodger Stadium—squared off against Giants reliever Jake McGee with Corey Seager aboard (leadoff line single) and hit the first pitch over the left center field fence.

The Giants looked so overmatched in Game Four that their only two runs scored on ground outs, one with the bases loaded. That was Evan Longoria scoring on Darin Ruf’s grounder to second. The other was Brandon Crawford coming home in the eighth when Kris Bryant grounded one to the hole at third.

Buehler’s short-rest deliverance plus the Dodgers’ bats ensured Julio Urias on regular rest starting Game Five against Logan Webb in San Francisco Thursday. For the Braves, that’s going to be very must-see television. Which is what it already was on the left coast and elsewhere.

For the Brewers, it’s a too-early winter vacation after their pitching virtuosity proved futile against the disappearance of their bats. Christian Yelich’s back injury-abetted struggles continued in the division series, and while the Braves didn’t exactly bring the walls crumbling down the Brewers hit a measly .192 in the set—32 points below the Braves.

They did get beaten in the end when the Braves’ best batter launched against their best pitcher in the Game Four eighth. Starting Eric Lauer for Game Four because ace Corbin Burnes said he wasn’t feeling one hundred percent proved a mistake, and so did manager Craig Counsell not bringing Brandon Woodruff in earlier in higher-leverage.

But then here’s where the Brewers’ best bats fell too short. Avisail Garcia? Eight strikeouts, only two hard-hit balls, and two singles in fifteen at-bats. Kolten Wong? Five strikeouts, likewise only two hard-hit balls, and one single in fifteen at-bats. Willy Adames? Five hits in seventeen at-bats—four singles and a double, plus nine strikeouts and only three balls hit hard.

That’s why the Brewers pitched the division series like Hall of Famers—their three starters Burnes, Woodruff, and Luis Peralta showed a collective 1.56 ERA and 0.92 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, not to mention nineteen strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched—but the Braves still took them out sweeping three after a Game One Brewers win.

“The vibe is the best that we ever had in this series,” Adames said before Game Four. “Today, the guys, I guess they woke up in a great mood. They came with energy. And I feel today we had the best vibe that we’ve had so far this series so far.”

The trouble was that the Brewers went in with the best vibes but the Braves played them as if they were jazz vibes legend Milt Jackson hammering out another virtuoso chorus of “Bags’ Groove.” Now the Braves wait to see who gets bagged in San Francisco Thursday night.

The unforgiving wall

Devin Williams

Devin Williams—to err is human; to forgive is not the policy of a wall attacked by a flying fist.

Baseball is the thinking person’s sport. It requires acute intelligence and mental acuity as much as it requires certain physical skills to play well. For some of the thinking people who play the game, the problem becomes that their brains go to bed when the game is over.

Submitted for your consideration—Devin Williams. Righthanded relief pitcher for the Brewers. Celebrating with his teammates in a champagne soaked, happy noise in the clubhouse after clinching the National League Central title Sunday.

Somewhere after the team revelry, young Mr. Williams left the clubhouse, had a few drinks, and got mad at “something,” nobody seems yet to know just what, on his way home from the party. And he discovered the hard way what too many players of sensitive temperament, elevated frustration, and perhaps a sip of champagne too far must learn, and re-learn.

To err is human, to forgive is not the policy of a solid, inanimate wall.

Young Mr. Williams has been one of the better lights in the Brewers bullpen, for a team that relies on its pitching most of all for this season’s success. In one of the National League’s better bullpens, on one of the National League’s better pitching staffs, he’s arguably the second best relief pitcher in a Brewers uniform, the set-up ace behind designated closer Josh Hader.

He sports a 2.50 ERA, a 2.81 fielding-independent pitching rate, and a 14.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate. His value becomes even more acute when you note that opposing hitters are hitting for a measly .186 average against him in 58 relief assignments this season to date.

But losing his temper for even a single moment leaves Mr. Williams with a broken pitching hand and the Brewers without his deeply needed setup relief services through the end of the National League Championship Series at minimum. Even healing in time for the World Series, should the Brewers get that far, isn’t guaranteed.

Whether or not at the urging or the pressure of team superiors, Mr. Williams met and addressed his Brewers teammates on Tuesday. He’s quoted as saying among other things, perhaps, ““I’m pretty upset with myself. There’s no one to blame but me. I feel like I’ve let my team down, our coaching staff, our fans, everyone. I know how important of a role I play on this team and a lot of people count on me.”

Whatever it was that upset him on the way home, you hope it was grave enough to understand in that moment why thoughts about his team, his role, and those who count upon him performing it might have escaped him while throwing a right cross at a wall that requires no effort to defend itself.

We try not to conceive that professional baseball teams must include lectures on the futility of punching non-living objects as a means to express frustration, rage, or sorrow. Of all the game’s storied, romantic, and multi-coloured history, baseball’s history of injuries upon such futile acts is involved enough, and embarrassing enough.

We present for your further consideration one John Tudor. Frustrated understandably at being slapped silly by the Royals in Game Seven, 1985 World Series, Mr. Tudor left the mound in the third inning. Wrought up in raging disappointment, he punched a moving electric fan.

His fortune in the season being almost over with time to heal was spoiled only by the press box figure who observed, knowing Mr. Tudor’s sometimes testy relations with the press, “Ahhh, the shit hit the fan!”

We present, too, even a Hall of Fame pitcher caught on the wrong side of frustration. It was one thing for Mr. Randy Johnson as a rookie to be sore after trying to stop a line drive back to the box with his bare pitching hand. It was something else to come out of the game at once, then punch the bat rack.

But the future Cooperstown immortal at least showed a degree of sense. If you must take swings at non-living objects, it’s best to do it with the hand that doesn’t earn your keep.

We know how often mortal people are angered by what’s on television. Meet Mr. Jason Isringhausen, relief pitcher. Once a star for the Athletics and the Cardinals, Mr. Isringhausen approaching the end of his fine career fumed after being hit for a three-run homer. Without knowing what on television might provoke him further, Mr. Isringhausen punched a TV set out. Knocking him out for a fifteen-day disabled list visit.

The foregoing three puglists at least took their swings out of specific baseball-related  frustration, rage, sorrow. For young Mr. Williams, however, the swing that ended his season and thwarted his postseason may yet prove to be the swing that helped swing his Brewers’ postseason potential foul.

Better to climb the wall than to punch your way through it. Lesson learned the hard way, reminding Mr. Williams . . .

Rockiegate v. Astrogate? Try Our Gang v. the James Gang

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies lined up on the foul line on Opening Day 2019. A former Brewer reserve says the 2018 Rocks were aspiring Astrogate-like sign stealers . . . but . . .

No one with a modicum of intellgence ever suggested the 2017-18 Astros were baseball’s only high-tech off-field-based sign-stealing cheaters. They were just the most sophisticated, top-down, and apologetically unapologetic of the known lot. Not to mention that they either altered a real-time-delay center field camera or installed a second non-delayed one to make their Astro Intelligence Agency work.

Now, former Brewers reserve catcher Eric Kratz has pointed a flying fickle finger of fate at the Rockies. The Rockies, who’ve seen enough of their best players leave for greener pastures administered by less brain-damaged administrations. The Rockies, now accused of being some of baseball’s more inept cheaters.

A couple of days ago, Kratz told the YES Network’s Curtain Call podcast (Kratz also did time with the Yankees, who own the YES Network) the Brewers caught the Rockies banging to relay signs stolen “from a television” in 2018. What were the Rockies banging? Kratz said it was—wait for it—a massage therapy gun.

“I can tell you that a team that has been to the World Series, often, recently, we caught them doing something almost similar,” said Kratz to Curtain Call hosts John J. Filipelli and Kevin Sullivan. Kratz didn’t specify that team, but then he dropped the quarters on the Rockies.

And I can also tell you, because I don’t really care, I don’t know anybody over there, the Colorado Rockies were doing the exact same thing in 2018, and we caught them, and we played them in the playoffs. You know how many runs they scored in a three-game playoff series in 2018? Not many people watched the NLDS. They scored two runs in the ninth inning of Game 2. They used to take a Theragun and bang it on their metal bench. And they were doing the exact same thing, from the TV.

So, there you go. If you think no one else was doing it, you are wrong. The difference is, the Astros may have taken it a little too far. Maybe a little bit too far. Maybe continued to do it. Or maybe it’s just the fact that they won the World Series and everybody’s pissed about that.

Theragun

The Theragun. The ball extension does the rapid-movement massaging at the push of a button. This is what the 2018 Rockies used to send batters stolen signs, reputedly. They only massaged themselves out of that postseason early.

Take careful note of all Kratz’s phrasings. “From the TV” can mean the Brewers caught onto the Rockies likely trying to steal signs the same way the Red Sox were caught doing the same year: deciphering signs from the video replay rooms provided to home and road teams in all major league ballparks, then relaying them forward.

The 2018 Rogue Sox relayed them by hand signs to baserunners to send to the batters. It was a slightly more sophisticated version of the kind of gamesmanship played on the basepaths for over a century. Unlike the Astros, they didn’t install a new camera somewhere in Fenway Park to set up a new underground television network.

Nobody’s yet accused the Rockies of fostering the kind of win-at-all-costs culture that came top down from the former Jeff Luhnow administration in Houston. There, what began as a conscious front-office effort to apply elaborate algorithims on behalf of sign-stealing continued with the development of the AIA Network, the altered/installed camera to the clubhouse monitors to the trash can bangs sending the stolen signs forward.

If you think that inspired rounds and rounds of can gags and signs since, what would the Rockies’ Theragun ineptitude inspire? “If Theraguns are Outlawed, Will Only Outlaws Have Theraguns?”

Kratz has a further point. If the 2018 Rockies really were using that massage gun for such a sign-stealing variant, it didn’t bring them a happy ending. They finished tied with the Dodgers for the National League West but lost a single-game playoff for the title, and the Brewers rousted the Rockies out three straight in the division series to follow.

Kratz mis-remembered the Rockies scoring in the set, though: they scored two in the Game One ninth (on an RBI single and a sacrifice fly) to tie the game at two, before the Brewers won in the tenth inning. Then the Brewers shut them out despite allowing them ten hits over Games Two and Three; the Rockies went 4-for-19 with men in scoring position without a single cash-in in those games.

If the Brewers caught the Rockies stealing signs in that division series, they’d caught one of the most inept bands of bandits since the wiseguys Jimmy Breslin satirised in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. It’s almost not even worth calling the Rockies to account.

Almost.

Break into a bank with larceny on your mind, come away with nothing because you and/or your confederates didn’t have a clue about how to dismantle the alarms and decipher the vault’s combinations.You’re still going to face federal charges when you get caught red-handed and flat-footed. Even if you have la policia laughing their fool heads off because they’d just busted Our Gang, not the James Gang.

Just because the Rockies got slapped out of the 2018 postseason fast enough to equal a blink, just because they were the apparent Maxwell Smarts of sign-stealing, it doesn’t make them any less guilty if Kratz is right. The Rockies being petty criminals doesn’t acquit or mitigate the Astros’ grand theft felonies, either. Neither did the 2018 Rogue Sox.

You might not have been the only high-tech cheaters on the block, but you’re not off the hook just because they weren’t as sophisticated or successful as you. Especially when your gang might yet have won a World Series because of it.

Mediocrity might get World Series representation

Yes, let’s root-root-root for the 29-31 Brewers to meet the 29-31 Astros in the World Series. Stop snarling, there is a method to such madness.

Almost half a century ago, U.S. Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska offered a defense for Richard Nixon’s dubious Supreme Court nominee G. Harrold Carswell. It proved that with friends like Hruska the hapless Carswell didn’t need enemies. Just the way baseball proves that with friends or commissioners like Rob Manfred, it doesn’t need enemies, either.

“Even if [Carswell] were mediocre,” said Hruska, “there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they? We can’t have all Brandeises and Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

Hruska, meet Manfred and today’s major league baseball owners. For the first time since 1981’s strike-resolution postseason experiment, at least one team with a losing record enters the rounds that will end in someone winning the World Series. This time, though, it turns out to be two such teams.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 29-31, final wild card-holding Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers. Whose joint appearance in the World Series to come (baseball law: anything can happen—and usually does) might be less hazardous to the nation’s health than a questionable Supreme Court justice.

Manfred and the owners dreamed up this sixteen-team/twelve wild-card postseason as a way to take the financial sting out of the owners agreeing to any sort of baseball season during a pandemic that’s stung the economy overall. So far as most of us knew, it would be a one-time thing.

Well, so was the postseason resolution of the 1981 strike. It put first-and-second-half division winners against each other in division series. But it also put the overall 50-53 Kansas City Royals (second-half American League West winners) into the postseason and kept the 66-42 Cincinnati Reds (neither-half National League West winners) and the best overall season record out.

Who knew then that, a decade and a half later, the owners and the players union alike would go all-in on three-division leagues and a wild card that took the first bite of championship dilution, allowing teams who didn’t finish in first place to play into the postseason in the first place?

Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig, then pushed for and got the second wild card in each league starting in 2012. Until this season, only two World Series featured combatants who got into the postseason by way of the wild card, in 2002 (the Anaheim Angels beat the San Francisco Giants) and 2014. (The Giants beat the Royals.) There’s an excellent chance of it happening again next month.

Almost two weeks ago, Manfred let slip that he’d like to see this sixteen-team postseason format stick past the anomaly of the pandemic-shortened season. That happened five days after Sports Illustrated writer Stephanie Apstein said she hoped as many losing teams as possible got here this time only.

The reasonings between the two couldn’t be more opposed. Manfred told a Hofstra University virtual panel that “there was a lot to commend” this setup “and it is one of those changes I hope will become a permanent part of our landscape,” adding that “an overwhelming majority” of the owners agree.

Apstein called the setup a disgrace: “This setup dissuades teams from trying to be good. The clearer that is this year, the more likely it is that we can go back to normal next year.” She dares to dream, as does her SI colleague, Emma Baccalieri, who said, “In a non-pandemic-restricted year, ‘tolerable weirdness’ shouldn’t be the bar.”

In absolute fairness, assorted teams this year didn’t look good for assorted reasons running the spread from aborted spring training and near rush-designed “summer camps” with a three-month-plus interruption to assorted injuries, health-related opt-outs, a few COVID-19 test panics and postponements, and the usual assortment of foul balls.

But assorted teams looked good in spite of those, too. More than a few teams made baseball fun and feel-good again. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman went from scared to death that COVID might wipe him out to likely winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player award. The Reds, the Chicago White Sox, and the Slam Diego Padres made friends and fans all over.

Well, at least the White Sox did until they went from letting the kids play (Tim Anderson especially) to Fun Police, drilling Willson Contreras for the bat flip of the century last Friday night. Must be something in the franchise water. The White Sox may have an apparent institutional genius for going from fun-fun-fun to phooey-on-you in practically a blink.

So why on earth should we pray for a World Series featuring a pair of losing season records?  There’s still the outside chance that the very sight of two losing records playing for the Promised Land might yank even Commissioner Nero’s head out from being so far up his ass he can give you the live play-by-play of his own root canal procedure. Might.

With identical losing records, and assuming they both get past the earlier rounds on the theory that even the also-rans can and do go nuclear for short spells, the Astros and the Brewers could make real that once-infamous observation that mediocrity deserved “a little” representation, too.

The Supreme Court can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters, and Cardozos? Well, baseball can’t be all the A’s, the Braves, the Chicago Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Minnesota Twins, and the Tampa Bay Rays, to name this pandemic season’s division winners, either.

They can’t even be all the White Sox, the Padres, the Cleveland Indians, or whoever—under normal two-card circumstances—might win a playoff game between the Reds and (surprise!) the Miami Marlins. (They’d have done it tying for the second National League wild card if this had been a normal season.)

Under normal conditions the rest of the pack, never mind the bottom of it, wouldn’t be entitled to play for a little representation before baseball’s highest court. Except in their wait-till-next-year dreams.

This year’s Astros and Brewers sank from winning 2019 teams (the Astros winning the AL West, the Brewers going to the NL wild card game) to 2020 also-rans. They were compromised predominantly by the injured list, particularly as it riddled their pitching staffs and a few key position players. If mediocrity deserves representation, their pandemic season’s records mean these two playing in the World Series would be as representative as it gets.

What if it leaves Manfred still giving the live play-by-play of his own root canal work? What if it doesn’t awaken him, and those owners he says are all-in, to the abject degeneracy of a baseball postseason that invited the mediocre to play on the same field (to open, anyway) as the teams who did overcome any and all pandemic or other disruptions to rise and shine?

What if Commissioner Nero and those supporters lack the brains to ask themselves, “What’s wrong with this picture? Why did the Dodgers, the Rays, the Twins, the A’s, the Braves, and the Cubs fight tooth, fang, claw, and coronavirus to finish on top, just to have to run through most of the rest of the lesser pack all over again to play in the World Series?” And, “Why did we remove the real incentives for teams to compete just so we could still make money and lots of it?”

It’s tempting to pray that the Astros and the Brewers do find ways to meet in the Series. (Tough openings: the Astros face the Twins in this wild card round; the Brewers have to survive the Dodgers. David had better odds pitching to Goliath.) Just for the outrage factor alone. An outrage factor that would be multiplied exponentially considering the scandal-ridden Astros in Year One following the exposure and non-disciplines of Astrogate.

It might make the Brewers—who haven’t been in the World Series since Epcot opened, Marvin Gaye released the final album of his lifetime, Cats started an eighteen-year run on Broadway, and then-Communist Poland barred the Solidarity labour union—objects of affection far beyond the Milwaukee that made Schlitz famous.

The Astros may have only eight men left (Justin Verlander, pitcher, is gone to undergo and recuperate from late-life Tommy John surgery) from the Astrogate teams of 2017 and part of 2018. But that hasn’t stopped the brickbats, catcalls, and stadium seat cutout punkings from reminding them it’s not nice to commit espionage above and beyond the temptations handed down by MLB itself in the replay rooms.

Maybe an Astros-Brewers World Series would leave Manfred and his minions to answer why they thought mediocrity deserved a little postseason representation, too. Big maybe. And maybe I’ll win the Nobel Prize.

But maybe it should also make you pray that the Indians find a way through this mess to play in and win the Series at long enough last. If 2020 were a normal season, the Indians—whose tenacious righthander Shane Bieber looks like the absolute lock for the American League’s Cy Young Award this pandemic season—might have played a 163rd game against the White Sox to see who got wild card numbers one and two. (The Yankees, the Buffalonto Blue Jays, and the Astros would have been out.)

Well, as Casey Stengel once said, now wait a minute fer crissakes. Suppose this pandemic postseason shakes out to the Indians playing the Padres in the Series. The Indians haven’t won the Series since the Berlin Airlift. The last time they got to try, they lost a Game Seven thriller to the Cubs—who hadn’t won a Series since the Roosevelt Administration. (Theodore’s.)

The Padres have yet to hoist their first piece of World Series metal. The last time they got to try, Jose Samarago became Portugal’s first Nobel literature laureate, Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for humour, Bill Clinton faced impeachment, and the Yankees weren’t anywhere near as inclined to roll over and play dead for the Padres as the Senate was for Clinton.

These words appear after Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. It almost figures that the first entry into baseball’s book of life for the year to come could make the Mad Hatter’s tea party resemble a Social Register cotillion. This time, if the proverbial cream rises to the top, a Dodgers-Rays World Series would likely do nothing but compel Manfred to proclaim validation. Told ya!

So let’s root, root, root for an Astros-Brewers World Series, no matter how you feel about the Astros otherwise. Not because mediocrity deserves a little representation, but because it might re-awaken the owners. Maybe enough to stop Commissioner Nero from consecrating the poisonous precept that a franchise doesn’t even have to try to be particularly good to earn the right to play for the Promised Land.

First degree burglary

Jedd Gyorko’s two homers Wednesday were just part of the Brewers battering the Tigers.

The Miami Marlins aren’t the only one of Wednesday’s teams deserving of your sympathy. How would you like to be the guys who raided the other guys’ house, left nothing behind including hostages dead or alive, and the rest of the world says big deal! thanks to the holocaust in Atlanta?

OK, so the Milwaukee Brewers didn’t start their destruction of the Detroit Tigers with an early-and-often eleven-run break-in. They more or less slipped in barely noticed and performed a rather methodical room-by-room, occupant-by-occupant roust, joust, and ravage.

So give the Brewers their due. They came. They saw. They took neither prisoners nor hostages.

Once upon a time, the J. Geils Band wrote, sang, and played a party song called “Detroit Breakdown.” It showed up on a live album called Blow Your Face Out. On Wednesday night, the Brewers plundered the Tigers’ house and blew their faces out, 19-0. Setting a franchise record with their thirteen extra-base hits, eight doubles and five home runs.

The least insulting part for the Tigers had to be Brewers starter Corbin Burnes striking out eleven and allowing one hit in seven innings while his partners in crime picked off the Comerica Park hosts and their silver, jewelry, fine crystal, and negotiable securities.

If the Braves dropped the equivalent of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on the Marlins, the Brewers had to settle for being the gendarmes who sent the Appalachin Conference wiseguys scattering to the woods and anyplace else they could escape. Rest assured, the Brewers won’t object.

“Not much good happened for us,” lamented Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, “other than no one got hurt.” That’s a matter of opinion, of course. “When you’re scoring runs like that,” Burnes told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “it makes it real easy on the pitcher. You just go out and pound the zone and play loose.”

Pound the zone? The Brewers hitters assaulted and battered it. Play loose? The way they were going, the Brewers could have loosened the fasteners on their arms and legs and still picked the Tigers’ house cleaner than the proverbial hound’s tooth.

They bit Tigers starter Matthew Boyd first, for seven runs and eight hits in three official innings before he was reprieved in the fourth without getting a single out from the three hitters he faced to open that inning. And one of the seven was surrendered by his successor.

He dodged the furies after giving up two walks in the first, but Orlando Arcia and Luis Urias doubled back-to-back to open the second, Arcia’s a ground-ruler. The good news: Urias got cuffed and stuffed trying to steal third. The bad news: Tyrone Taylor promptly doubled, Jacob Nottingham walked on four pitches, and Avisail Garcia promptly hit a hanging slider for a two-run double.

Two ground outs later Boyd escaped. The escape lasted just long enough for Jedd Gyorko (pronounced “jerko,” which is just what he would do to a full-count fastball) to open the third sending one over the right field fence. And even that was only the fourth Brewers run, since Boyd turned Ryan Braun’s base hit up the pipe into Arcia dialing into a step-and-throw double play at second base and Urias grounding out to third.

Still, a 4-0 deficit is manageable, right? Wrong. After Taylor opened the fourth beating out an infield hit, the Sheriff of Nottingham hit a hanging changeup over the left field fence and Garcia walked on 3-1. Gardenhire must have decided he wasn’t about to let any of his pitchers suffer excess abuse and lifted Boyd for John Schreiber.

Oops. Schreiber started his evening’s work by plunking Keston Hiura. Then, he got rid of slumping Brewers superman Christian Yelich on a fly to left and caught Gyorko looking at strike three without a single pitch leaving the strike zone or kissing Gyorko’s bat. So far, so good, right? Wrong. Braun hung the seventh run on Boyd’s jacket when Schreiber served him an unsinkable sinker to sink into left field to send Garcia home, before Schreiber struck Arcia out, again on three pitches.

Better: Schreiber zipped through the Brewers in order in the fifth. Worse: He opened the sixth feeding Garcia something to bounce over the wall for a ground rule double and, after Hiura flied out to right, Yelich remembered who he was supposed to be, after all, and doubled far down the right field line to cash Garcia in with the eighth Brewers run.

Now, Gardenhire ended Schreiber’s misery and brought in Rony Garcia. Gyorko popped out to shortstop but Braun worked out a walk, Arcia loaded the pillows with a base hit, and Urias on 2-2 hit a three-run double to left, followed almost immediately by Taylor on 2-1 doubling Urias home to just about the same real estate plot. Then Garcia busted the Sheriff of Nottingham with a punchout for the side.

Gardenhire’s next attempt to put the cuffs on the Brewers would be Kyle Funkhauser to open the seventh. Motown legend James Jamerson never cleaned his Fender bass because he swore the dirt made the funk. The Brewers decided the dirt would unmake the Funkhauser. It only began when Garcia wrestled his way to a full-count leadoff walk and, while working to pinch hitter Eric Sogard, Funkhauser wild-pitched Garcia to second.

Sogard singled him to third to climax another wrestle of a plate appearance, Yelich walked, and Gyorko dialing Area Code 6-4-3 didn’t exactly give the Tigers a recess from the burglary since Garcia came home on the play while Sogard claimed third. Braun announced recess over when he sent a first-pitch meatball over the left field fence.

Fifteen unanswered Brewers runs. These Tigers were being de-toothed, de-fanged, and de-clawed with not even a cursory roar in response.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Braun said post-game about the Brewers’ Wednesday night battery. “Obviously, things haven’t gone very well for us offensively [this season], so whenever you do have a rare, good day like that, you have to really enjoy it.”

Is it me, or are Gardenhire and other Show managers forgetting that this season’s three-batter minimum for relief pitchers doesn’t obligate them to leave the poor saps in past three batters on obviously modest nights? Funkhauser from there survived Arcia’s single to lure Urias into forcing him out at second for the side, but still . . .

Joe Jimenez opened the Milwaukee eighth hitting Taylor with a pitch before getting three prompt enough outs, and that was practically the cleanest Detroit pitching turn of the night. Then Travis Demeritte—a right fielder by profession—opened the ninth by getting Yelich to ground out. You knew it would be too good to last by now.

You were right. Gyorko promptly dropped his second bomb of the night, this time over the left field fence. Braun popped out to follow, but Arcia poked a base hit to very shallow left and helped himself to second on a throwing error by Tigers shortstop Willi Castro. Urias sent him home with a single up the pipe, and Taylor drove a 1-0 dead fish a little farther than Gyorko’s one-out drive landed.

“We weren’t going to use another pitcher,” Gardenhire told the Detroit Free Press, “so it was going to be somebody. And Demeritte was in the game as the DH for (Miguel) Cabrera, and, obviously, he was going to be the guy to pitch. We were not going to use any more pitchers out there, so it was a pretty simple thing. I told Demeritte, ‘Just don’t get killed’.”

Demeritte merely spent his professional pitching debut getting bounced off the walls. Nottingham flying out to left for the side was a show of Brewers mercy.

Josh Lindblom, usually a Brewers starter, retired the Tigers in order in the bottom of the ninth to end the raid. It would have been easier to mine plutonium with a swizzle stick than for the Tigers—who’d had eleven comebacks on the truncated season to date—to mount a nineteen-run comeback in the ninth as it was.

Schreiber and Funkhauser were optioned to the Tigers’ alternate site after the game. For the first time all night long, they must have felt as though somebody wanted to do something other than use, misuse, and abuse them.

This was the single worst shutout loss in Tiger history. The previous subterranean low was a 16-0 massacre at the hands of the St. Louis Browns in 1922, almost a century ago, and that was with Hall of Famer Ty Cobb in the lineup and going hitless in three trips to the plate. That day, they had five hits, three more than they could summon up Wednesday night.

“I think we all had a bad day,” Gardenhire said. “You guys had to have a bad day, you had to watch that, too. So, you know what? That wasn’t fun. We tried to survive.” After such a home invasion as Wednesday night, the Tigers might want to think about upgrading their alarm systems.