CHICAGO — It wasn’t a postseason game — officially — but it sure looked like one. And on a shockingly bipartisan day at Wrigley Field, it was the Milwaukee Brewers who looked more like a team that belongs in October than the Chicago Cubs.
The last out of Monday’s tiebreaker might have encapsulated this. Josh Hader, the hard-slinging lefty, was trying to finish it after Javier Baez had singled with two outs to keep the game going. That brought Anthony Rizzo to the dish. Rizzo is a lefty slugger, of course, belonging to the species of hitter that Hader usually gobbles up like popcorn.
It was lefty versus lefty, but this matchup was different: Rizzo had a 1.089 OPS off Hader and just under a month ago he became the first lefty to go deep off Hader in the big leagues. He’s still the only one. And earlier in the game, Rizzo had put Chicago’s lone run on the board by crushing a Jhoulys Chacin pitch into the right-field bleachers.
By now, you know the result. Rizzo got under an inside fastball and lofted a fly to right that Keon Broxton circled under near the warning track, looking like someone who wanted to start dancing before the music had even begun. Yelich made the catch, started hopping around, and the large Brewers contingent went bananas. The final was Milwaukee 3, Chicago 1, and for the first time since 2011, the Brewers are NL Central champions.
“So much (adrenaline),” Hader said. “I don’t think I could even put a radar on it. Especially the eighth, coming out there and hearing all the Brewers fans. There is something to it.”
If you haven’t been following Milwaukee closely, there are two names you need to know: Hader and outfielder Christian Yelich. They are the biggest reasons why the Brewers, not the Cubs, have emerged as the NL Central’s best postseason entrant.