After a first-pitch home run for Andrew McCutchen, the Milwaukee Brewers offense seemed to be off to a hot start in Pittsburgh on Thursday. However, unlike two nights ago when a historic night by Willy Adames led to an offensive breakout, the Crew would muster only four hits and no runs over the next seven innings.
Luckily for the Brewers, Freddy Peralta was able to put up six scoreless innings of his own against the Pirates offense. Unfortunately, Brad Boxberger then had an uncharacteristically bad inning in the 7th, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
Both sides put up 1-2-3 innings in the 8th, leaving the Brewers with one last chance in the top of the 9th. A comeback looked unlikely early as Lorenzo Cain lined out to left field.
That’s when playing some timely small ball worked out in the Milwaukee Brewers’ favor.
Next up was Christian Yelich, who came off the bench to pinch hit for Mike Brosseau. Yelich had struggled through the series, putting up just one hit in nine at bats as his batting average dipped to .185. This time, however, he had a surprise in store for the Pirates infielders.
The Brewers, widely recognized as an organization that relies heavily on analytics, are not known for their bunting. Additionally, Yelich himself has been hitting hard infield grounders recently. The Pirates infielders, therefore, were likely preparing to scoop up another hard-hit grounder.
Instead, Yelich shocked everyone by laying down a bunt that dribbled halfway between the pitcher and catcher on the third base side. Sprinting down the first baseline, he beat out the throw to first from Chris Stratton. While his hard contact hasn’t helped him reach base much lately, Yelich made the decision on his own to take advantage of his sprint speed to keep the Brewers in the game.
Two singles from Kolten Wong and Omar Narvaez loaded the bases for McCutchen with one out. As if the situation wasn’t dramatic enough, McCutchen hit a line drive that ricocheted off second basemen Josh VanMeter’s glove and into right field, scoring Yelich and Wong.
The Brewers took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 9th with Devin Williams taking over. Williams, who pitched a scoreless inning on Wednesday night, showed no signs of fatigue as he struck out the side to win the ball game and sweep the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
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While most of the credit for this win should go to Peralta’s six scoreless innings and McCutchen’s three RBI’s, the decision to bunt for a hit turned the tide of the game in the Brewers’ favor. The Crew should continue to trust the analytics that have made them successful in recent years, but they should also not be afraid to use small ball when the defense least expects it.