Just get it over with and hand Christian Yelich the National League’s most valuable player award.
In yet another game the Milwaukee Brewers had to have, he delivered in the biggest way possible.
Yelich homered not once but twice, with his second shot in the seventh inning proving to be the difference in a 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Miller Park on Saturday night.
Coupled with the Chicago Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals earlier in the day, the Brewers head into Sunday tied with the Cubs for the Central Division lead at 94-67 with one game remaining.
While it remains to be seen whether the Cardinals will go all-out to beat the Cubs after being eliminated from playoff contention later Saturday, the Brewers couldn’t ask for much more than going into the final day of the regular season with their fate in their own hands.
There was quite a bit of uncertainty in the air with the pesky Tigers having tied the Brewers at 5-5 in the sixth.
But then it was Yelich time.
Facing Daniel Stumpf to start the bottom of the seventh, Yelich looked at one pitch before connecting on the left-hander’s second offering — an 85-mph slider — and sending it into the second deck to the delight of the standing-room-only crowd.
As he started his trot around the bases, Yelich gave an uncharacteristic bat flip and scream into the Brewers’ dugout while being showered with chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
Yelich was in the Milwaukee dugout only seconds before emerging for a curtain call. And why not? He’d just tied Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals for the NL lead in homers with 36.
Throw in his NL-leading average of .324 and Yelich enters the final game of the regular season with 109 runs batted in, just two shy of tying league leader Javy Báez of the Cubs.
If Yelich can somehow at least tie Báez on Sunday while also remaining tied with Carpenter, he’d become the NL’s first Triple Crown winner since Joe Medwick in 1937.
Milwaukee then got lights-out work from its bullpen to close it out. Joakim Soria (3-1) threw a 1-2-3 seventh, then Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress each struck out the side in the eighth and the ninth to set up maybe the most memorable season finale in franchise history.
The game turned on an offensive outburst by the Brewers in the fourth.
With Milwaukee trailing, 3-2, Hernán Pérez and Mike Moustakas delivered one-out singles off Detroit left-hander Daniel Norris to bring up the bottom third of the order.
Jonathan Schoop worked a full count before doubling into the left-field corner to plate Pérez to tie it.
Then Erik Kratz hit a hot shot to third that trickled under Jeimer Candelario’s glove and into short left to score both Moustakas and Schoop and give the Brewers their first lead at 5-3.
Nicholas Castellanos pulled the Tigers back to within 5-4 with a two-out solo homer to right-center off Corbin Burnes in the fifth.
They tied it in the sixth when Dawel Lugo tripled to right-center on the third pitch thrown by Taylor Williams and Pete Kozma drove him in with a sacrifice fly to left.
It appeared as though Castellanos delivered again later in the inning when, with two outs and two more runners on, he lifted a long fly ball to right off Jacob Barnes. But Yelich reeled the drive in with a mini-leap at the wall to preserve the tie.
For the second consecutive night the Brewers found themselves playing from behind against an offensively anemic Tigers team.
Starter Wade Miley surrendered a pair of first-inning singles in falling behind, 1-0, with Niko Goodrum driving in JaCoby Jones after Jones stole second.
Miley issued a walk and surrendered another single in a scoreless second, then tossed an awful third in which he hit Candelario to start.
Castellanos reached on a one-out single and Goodrum struck again, this time rifling a two-RBI triple into the corner in right to up Detroit’s lead to 3-0 and leave the crowd restless.
Miley finished out the inning but departed for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the frame after turning in one of his least effective starts of the season.
Some of the pressure was taken off in the bottom of the inning when, with two outs, Lorenzo Cain singled and Yelich worked a full count from Norris before hammering a two-run homer to left-center to narrow the deficit to 3-2.