Brewers’ sluggers have field day
MILWAUKEE - Ryan Braun hit a mammoth 463-foot two-run home run in the first inning of the Brewers’ 9-6 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series yesterday, and all he could talk about was how hard Prince Fielder hit his fifth-inning two-run homer.
“That was one of the hardest hit balls I’ve ever seen,’’ said Braun, the NL Most Valuable Player favorite who collected four RBIs. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Prince hit one any harder than that.’’
According to ESPN, the ball went out at 119.2 miles per hour, the fastest speed for any home run in 2011. It traveled 420 feet.
“It felt good,’’ Fielder said. “I thought it might be off the wall or a double into the gap and it kind of kept going. That was good.’’
Braun, who gave the Brewers a 2-1 lead with his first-inning shot, and Fielder, probably the most feared twosome in any middle of the order in baseball, showed how quickly the Brewers can score. Entering the fifth inning, they were trailing the Cardinals and lefty Jamie Garcia, 5-2, but not for long. They scored six times.
“I think that’s why we get so excited,’’ Fielder said. “Whenever we do that, it’s just awesome because it’s all real quick. It’s a good feeling. We were down there for a while and obviously that doesn’t feel good. Whenever we come back real quick, it’s a little extra boost.’’
Since the two became teammates in 2007, Braun and Fielder have homered in the same game 37 times. The Brewers are 28-9 in those games.
“We have an offense that’s not exactly dependent on the home run, but if we need to rely on it we’ve done that,’’ said Braun, who is now 11 for 22 in six games this postseason.
The big hits in the fifth were Braun’s opposite-field ground-rule double, scoring two, and Fielder’s blast for two more. Another came from one of the most unlikely heroes, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who also blasted a two-run homer after a good at-bat in which he fouled off four pitches from reliever Octavio Dotel.
Asked after the game about those who have criticized his season as up and down, Betancourt quipped, “Since I don’t understand English, I don’t get mad.’’
Braun and Fielder are demonstrative when they do something big. Some questioned Cardinals manager Tony La Russa’s strategy of pitching to Fielder with first base open, but it was only the fifth and Fielder was facing a lefty. Fielder had made a nice diving stop to rob Jon Jay of a hit in the top of the fifth.
“I’m not the greatest defender, but any time I can help on both sides of the ball it’s good,’’ said Fielder, who should be the highest-priced free agent this offseason. “Because sometimes you’re not going to hit. So you have to pick it up on defense.’’
There wasn’t much in the way of pitching, but the Brewers’ Zack Greinke, in the biggest game of his career, allowed six runs, yet earned his first career postseason win. He improved to 12-0 at Miller Park. The Brewers went 57-24 at home this season, the best in the majors, and Greinke won 11 of his 16 games at Miller Park.
The retractable roof was kept open on a pristine fall day, with the temperature 74 degrees at game time. The ball carried; David Freese gave the Cardinals a 4-2 lead on his three-run homer in the fourth inning.
Garcia hit Fielder with a pitch after Braun’s homer in the first. The umpires warned both benches because these teams had some brushback pitches and bad blood in going 9-9 during the regular season.
“I don’t think he tried to throw at me,’’ Fielder said.
Garcia walked Rickie Weeks right after that, but then struck out two to end the inning. He kept the Brewers off the board in innings 2-4 before the fifth inning came along.
Corey Hart (single) and Jerry Hairston Jr. (double), the top of the Brewers order, set the table for the onslaught.
Hairston Jr. said one of the keys to the Brewers’ offensive success is the fun they have on the field. He said they’re not into showing teams up, but they do get excited. Braun and Fielder do a boxing act after big hits.
“They have fun and we really enjoy the game,’’ Hairston Jr. said. “We don’t want to show anyone up. We tried to calm down at one point this season and we lost four games in a row so we decided to go back to having a good time and it’s paid off.’’
Hairston Jr. compared Braun with Edgar Martinez.
“Edgar Martinez is the best righthanded hitter I ever saw,’’ he said. “Braun is a better athlete. Edgar was awesome on the inner half and the outer half and Brauny is the same way.’’