Brewers operating like a well-oiled machine
MILWAUKEE — Like clockwork it started.
Just as it seemed the well-oiled machine would finally slow down from the maniacal pace it had been running at since the end of August; just as those who had started to believe began to lose the faith and move closer to the cliff, the cogs began to move as if they had been waiting for just the right moment.
In calculated, efficient steps, the machine began to hum along again, like nothing had changed. The Milwaukee Brewers were never out of Thursday's game against the Pirates. Down three runs heading into the eighth inning against Pittsburgh — in a near-must-win game that was desperately needed to set the tone for their next pair of opponents — Milwaukee's machine had never faltered. It seemed, it just hadn't turned on yet.
But as piece by piece, cog by cog, seemed to move in perfect succession in the eighth inning — a Carlos Gomez leadoff single. Another single for Jean Segura. And another unusual display of power for Nori Aoki would make it five to seven — the gears began to move.
And at that point, those who have seen the machine work in the past month seemed to know what was coming. A Rickie Weeks triple scored two runs. An intentional walk to Ryan Braun put another base runner on. And then Aramis Ramirez — perhaps one of the most important, yet undervalued cogs this season — gave the Milwaukee machine yet another lead.
“Great game," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “It would've been easy to get down in that game. Their offense did a good job of swinging the bats and coming back and taking the lead. It would've been easy for us to not fight and come back, and the guys keep doing it."
They keep doing it because the machine can't stop. A loss on Thursday could very well have sent a potentially vulnerable wild card-contending team into a tailspin. With the two most important series of the Brewers' season upcoming on the road at Cincinnati and Washington, the machine's halt on Thursday could have very well halted the machine until next spring. That's what made Thursday's performance — just in the nick of time, like the machine has operated so often as of late — so remarkable.
It was a true example of the attitude that's swept the Brewers clubhouse over the period of the last month. It was just one month ago, on August 20, that this seemingly impossible stretch run began with an otherwise innocuous win over the Cubs. Since then, the machine has been nearly unstoppable. The Brewers' victory on Thursday gave them their first five-game winning streak of the season and their ninth win in their last 11 games.
But more telling is how the machine has functioned underneath the surface — the nuts and bolts of its success. The Brewers' clubhouse is lighter and calmer than it has been all season. The music after games has gotten louder. Enthusiasm has built off of other enthusiasm. First baseman Corey Hart, who returned to the lineup for the first time in eight games on Thursday, said emphatically last week that last year's stretch run felt much more labored and stressful. The machine, then, had felt like it could stop at any moment. Lucky for the Brewers, it didn't stop until the NLCS.
But this year, the attitude couldn't be any more different, and that's what makes these Brewers all the more dangerous. They are well structured from the inside out. There is no other team in baseball running more soundly or being ushered along by a more cool-headed leader than the Brewers have in Roenicke.
Thursday and the month before it was what Milwaukee had expected all along. The dominant power, the lockdown ninth inning, the comebacks — this was what was expected out of the Brewers.
As the Brewers have shown now for a full month though, it seems time had been consciously and calculatedly ticking all along, the machine just waiting for the right point for Milwaukee's run to kick into gear — a run that seems almost destined to end in a playoff berth.
It was, it seemed, just like clockwork all along.
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