After submitting another performance pivotal to yet another Brewers win, catcher Jonathan Lucroy sat in front of his locker inside Milwaukee’s clubhouse contentedly eating an ice cream cone, positively pleased with the team’s victory and entirely unconcerned with whether his continuingly peerless play would be recognized with an All-Star nod.
In the Brewers’ 7-4 win over the Colorado Rockies on a muggy Saturday afternoon at Miller Park, Lucroy went 3 for 4 with a RBI and a run scored, another productively ho-hum day at the plate for the National League’s hits leader. But it was behind the plate, and in one of the only maligned aspects of his game, that Lucroy made his latest case for selection to baseball’s Midsummer Classic.
Despite the outsized contributions from the player Brewers fans serenade with loud "Luuuuc!" chants every time he comes to bat, Lucroy said as long as the team keeps winning — and the Brewers are now 19 games over .500 for the first time all season — he doesn’t think about individual acclaim.
"I’m more worried about this, what’s going on right here (in the clubhouse), and not worrying about that — that’s going to be totally separate," Lucroy said. "This right here is what’s more important because this is what’s going to propel us to the playoffs.
"So I’m just trying to go out there, try my best and if (being voted an All-Star) happens, it happens."
While Lucroy shrugged off any suggestion that he was making a national statement with his play, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was more bullish on the subject.
"I know what kind of player he is, the guy’s an All-Star and you can’t prove any more than what he’s doing right now," Roenicke said. "I know what he is, everybody here knows what he is and you just hope things go that way with voters."
While he leads all National League catchers in batting average (.336), runs (38), OPS (.920) and WAR (3.9) and is second in RBI (42), Lucroy’s ability to throw out runners has occasionally been called into question. He entered Saturday’s game third in the NL in caught-stealing percentage at .250, behind San Francisco’s Buster Posey (.298) and St. Louis’ otherworldly cannon-armed Yadier Molina (.485).
But in Milwaukee’s sixth win over Colorado in six contests, Lucroy bookended his offensive output with two crucial defensive plays, throwing out the only two Rockies who tried to steal against him. The first came with two outs in the game’s opening inning, as Lucroy fired a lightning-quick strike to second base to catch Rockies center fielder Drew Stubs and end the frame. The second came in the eighth inning, again with two outs, to terminate Colorado’s only real threat to the day’s outcome.
With runners at first and second and pinch hitter Charlie Culberson representing the tying run, the Brewers (51-32) were looking vulnerable for the first time and reliever Will Smith was trying to preserve their 7-4 lead. As Culberson took a called strike, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki — the only National League player with a batting average (.348) above Lucroy’s — took off for second base, while Stubbs dashed for third on an attempted double steal. Lucroy fired to second baseman Scooter Gennett and Tulowitzki was called out on a bang-bang play that the Rockies (35-46) challenged. The call was confirmed and, one inning later, closer Francisco Rodriguez had saved his 27th game and the Brewers had won their fourth in a row.
"(Lucroy’s) offense has been pretty amazing for a while now," Roenicke said. "In the last month and a half, I think he’s had one day that he didn’t look good at the plate. He’s been unbelievable. And today, the throws — the second one throwing out (Tulowitzki) was a huge play."
Afterward, Lucroy was glad his throws helped Milwaukee win because he takes "a lot of pride" in his defense, though he said he couldn’t immediately celebrate the critical eighth-inning throw because it was being challenged.
"I knew they were going to replay it. I didn’t want to get all excited and be like rah-rah-rah, and then they’d overturn it and I’d look like an idiot," he said. "Obviously hitting is a big part of my game, but throwing people out, catching and blocking and receiving, is just as important in my eyes. So it’s nice to be able to contribute on that side."
During the Brewers’ sweep of the Rockies a week ago, Colorado had a lot of success running on Lucroy, stealing eight bases in three games and being caught only once. Pitcher Matt Garza, who started and took the win on Saturday, said Lucroy’s timing had improved since that last series.
"I think he is getting a better sense of who is trying to go and when," said Garza, who threw 6 2/3 innings and allowed four earned runs with four strikeouts and no walks. "He’s doing a really great job. He’s having one hell of a year."
During the eighth inning that ended with Lucroy’s throw-out of Tulowitzki, the Brewers got a scare when center fielder Carlos Gomez and right fielder Ryan Braun collided in the outfield on Stubbs’ leadoff double. Gomez sat dazed on the grass for several minutes as trainers attended to him and ultimately he walked off the field, sending Braun to play center field for the first time in his career and infielder Mark Reynolds to man right field.
"That one looked like it hurt a little bit, especially when Gomez went down," said Lucroy. "He doesn’t usually go down like that."
It was announced that Gomez had suffered a neck strain and would be day-to-day. Afterward, Roenicke said Gomez was "going to be a little sore in his neck." The manager added that Gomez would be reevaluated on Sunday and could possibly play in the series finale, depending on how he feels.
Gomez, who told reporters after the game that he did not have a concussion but felt tingly, was not the only Brewer that exited with an injury. Shortstop Jean Segura left in the sixth inning with leg cramps around his left quadriceps, though Roenicke did not seem overly concerned and said Segura, too, would be examined again on Sunday.
The Brewers jumped on the board early against Colorado starter Jhoulys Chacin, who they eventually chased after scoring seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. After Braun singled to left and Lucroy singled to right in the first inning, Gomez belted a 415-foot home run to center field to give the Brewers a 3-0 lead. In the bottom of the fifth, they added three more runs after Braun tripled in Segura and Gennett — nearly lapping the latter in the process — and was plated himself on a groundout by Lucroy.
Afterward Garza, who again deserved a better pitching line than he finished with because of defense and bad luck, said it was a luxury to pitch with the early run support and a pleasure to watch Brewers hitters.
"I’ve never been with a great offense like this," he said.