Milwaukee Brewers take the NL Central in tense extra contest

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 08: Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers is hugged by teammate Orlando Arcia #3 after Yelich homered in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 8, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Brewers won 12-4. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 08: Christian Yelich #22 of the Milwaukee Brewers is hugged by teammate Orlando Arcia #3 after Yelich homered in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 8, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Brewers won 12-4. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images) /
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The Milwaukee Brewers took care of business, taking the NL Central with a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Game 163.

The Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs could not have been more evenly matched going into play the last day of the 2018 season. They were not only tied for first in the NL Central, at 94-67, but they also had identical home and away records (50-30 at home, 44-37 away).

Thus, it was not hard to imagine what occurred on Sept. 30; both teams won, of course, and forced a game to determine the division champion and home team Wild Card winner. The game winner Oct. 1 would have home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. Aside from World Series game sevens, individual games are rarely this important. This one would be in a packed, frenzied Wrigley Field, but lately the Brewers seemed to have the Cubs number after falling behind in the season series.

The series suggested a match-up of two Brewers stars and their overall pitching squad against three Cubs offensive luminaries and a very respectable hurling crew as well. Both teams featured MVP candidates (and the likely winner in the end), Chicago’s Javier Baez and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich. Because the game stats would count for the regular season, Yelich would have a shot at the NL triple crown in the contest. Besides Baez and Yelich, most observers would be looking for significant contributions from Anthony Rizzo (100 RBI), Kris Bryant (lifetime .901 OPS) and Lorenzo Cain (.815 OPS), three players with an aggregate seven All-Star appearances, a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award, and a Gold Glove.

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon had fiddled with his rotation to ensure left-hander Jose Quintana would be available for this game as its probability became more likely. Quintana had been terrific against the Brewers this season with the exception of that game Aug. 14 at Wrigley when he gave up five runs in five frames in a 10-9 Chicago loss. He had handcuffed Yelich all season.

Quintana took the hill a bit past high noon under cloudy skies. He immediately forced Cain into a groundout to short on the first pitch, allowed an infield single to Yelich on a high bouncer over his head, and got Ryan Braun and the baserunner on a 6-4-3 double play. The unprecedented Game 163 Doubleheader was under way. (Los Angeles and Colorado would be later.)

Jhoulys Chacin, Milwaukee’s starter, hadn’t been as sharp throughout the season against the Cubs as Quintana had been against his team, but he did post a 2.98 ERA against them, according to ESPN broadcast graphics. The right-hander had been a horse in general, however, for the Beer Makers, winning 15 games, and in the bottom of the first, he got two quick outs on balls in the air, and struck out Baez swinging, on a breaking pitch. No score. Each team had at least 24 more outs.

Through the next five innings, both the starters and two of the offensive big guns stepped up. Quintana and Chacin both pitched well, and both left the game in the sixth with the score at 1-1. At the end of six innings, Yelich had three hits and an RBI, and Rizzo had a solo home run. Yelich’s hits had been all quite different singles, one that chopper over the pitcher, the RBI hit a well-struck ball through the middle, and the third to the opposite field.  Rizzo had homered in the fifth on his second hard swing at a Chacin slider and fastball. He had gone to a knee on the first pitch. The second went well over 400 feet, the only hit Chacin had given up.

In the eighth inning the sun broke through over Wrigley and shone on the visitors only, it seemed. An Arcia single and a hard double by pinch-hitter Domingo Santana down the third baseline put runners on second and third with no outs. Three batters later, Cain and Braun had RBI singles and the Brewers had a 3-1 lead that held up for the game and divisional championship win.

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In a hardly shocking development, ten relief pitchers were used, which, as always, increased both tension and tedium. The most important of those relievers was fire-baller Josh Hader of the Brewers, who booked a two-inning save with three strikeouts. However, the happiest Champagne-soaked Brewer was likely Orlando Arcia, who had his first career 4-for-4 game on a day when there were no games originally scheduled. All of his hits were stung, and he also scored two runs, the game’s difference.