Kartje: Veras' strikeout a pivotal moment
It's all too easy in baseball to get sucked into the little moments of drama sprinkled throughout a 162-game regular season. The bottom-of-the-ninth comebacks. The walk-off grand slams. The game-ending strikeouts.
It doesn't often matter when in the season these instances take place. We are, after all, just 60 games into the 2012 baseball season — a little over one third of the way through. Still, those moments can feel like defining ones.
And in front of over 43,000 people at Miller Park on Sunday, the Brewers had one of those moments.
In the scope of an entire 162-game schedule, that moment — bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, a four-run lead wasted with two outs, their closer chased — may not, when all is said and done, mean much more than a single win on the Brewers' schedule. But through 60 games, that moment, that tiptoeing of the line between winning and losing, has come to define the first third of the Brewers season.
After beating the Dodgers in four straight games out in Los Angeles, riding a boatload of momentum back to Milwaukee, the Brewers dropped three out of their first four games back at Miller Park.
The next four games yielded three wins, as the Brewers seemed to regain that same momentum — all leading to Sunday's ninth inning with John Baker at the plate, the Padres trailing by just one, and the bases loaded.
Just a few games back in the NL Central — a division that seems to be up for grabs through 60 games — the importance of moments like this aren't lost on the Brewers now. There's no talk of the season being too early to discuss long-term outlook anymore.
And with the handful of opportunities that the Brewers have blown already this season, moments like that have become increasingly important as the season fades into the summer months.
Now, with an incredibly manageable schedule through the rest of June, the Brewers know there's no time left to blow opportunities.
"We played some teams that we felt we could have picked up some more games against," closer John Axford said. "And we wish we could have."
That's why Jose Veras' final pitch in the ninth inning, the 14th curveball of the inning, was so important for the Brewers' momentum going forward. Baker watched the ball hit Martin Maldonado's glove to end the game, as Milwaukee took the series against a team that it obviously outmatched.
And the Brewers will see more of the same in the next week with series against the Royals and the Twins. Winning four out of those six games is a reasonable goal, one that the Brewers should hold themselves to.
Because the moments sure to come in the next month are ones that will undoubtedly affect the rest of the season. And with the division lead just four-and-a-half games out of Milwaukee's grasp, the Brewers could realistically be at the top of the heap — a place they feel they're talented enough to be in — by the end of the month.
It'll take a few more moments going their way — like Sunday's ninth inning show — for the Brewers to get to that point. But winning the close ones, the ones that could just as easily fall out of their grasp, is the first step on the long road toward being back on top.
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