The crowd at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia let Ryan Braun have it from pregame introductions through his final at-bat. That certainly was expected.
What wasn’t expected was how Braun responded.
Braun blasted three home runs and tied a franchise record with seven RBI in Milwaukee’s 10-4 rout of the Phillies on Tuesday, making a sensational diving catch along the way.
Entering just 3 for 20 (.150 batting average) on the season and with his nagging thumb injury flaring up again, a game like the one he had Tuesday was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind. He’s said repeatedly that the boos and heckling from opposing fans fuel him and proved as such against Philadelphia.
"I just enjoy this atmosphere as a competitor," Braun said. "I don’t know, I’m weird. As a competitor, that makes it a lot of fun for me. It gets the adrenaline going, it’s motivating and I really enjoy it."
Braun connected for his first home run since May 22 of last season in the third inning, hitting a 1-2 sinker from Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick out to left for a three-run shot to put the Brewers up 4-1.
An inning later, Kendrick left a sinker out over the plate and Braun deposited it in the seats in right center for a solo shot to make it 6-1 Milwaukee. His second home run of the day gave him his first multi-homer game since Sept. 16, 2012.
Braun put the game out of reach in the eighth inning with a three-run homer to left center on a hanging curveball from reliever Brad Lincoln, giving Braun the second three-home run game of his career. Braun’s seven RBI tied his career high and was last done by a Brewer when Jonathan Lucroy drove in seven in a game twice in 2012.
"He’s a special hitter," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Those guys, when they turn it up, they turn it up. Why he did it today? I don’t know. I know it has been bothering him not being able to drive the ball like he’s used to. For whatever reason today he did."
After hitting .417 with three home runs in spring training, Braun has had a miserable start to 2014. He began the season with just one hit in his first 16 at-bats before going 2 for 4 against Boston on Sunday. The concern level rose quite a bit higher when he had to serve as the designated hitter Friday and sit out completely on Saturday due to the same thumb injury that robbed him of his power in 2013.
Braun said he eliminated his leg kick a bit Tuesday and the adjustment worked, as he looked like his old self for the first time since serving a 65-game suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs.
"I’m not really looking to prove anything to anybody," Braun said. "I know what I’ve accomplished in my career. I intend to continue to be the same player I’ve been. Hopefully I get better and continue to do what I’ve been doing."
Braun didn’t just make an impact with his bat Tuesday, but he also saved at least two runs with a diving catch in the bottom of the second. With two on, two out and the game tied at 1, Braun laid out to rob Carlos Ruiz of at least a double and two RBI.
The play — his first of the highlight-reel variety at his new position — not only helped struggling starter Kyle Lohse out of an inning, but possibly prevented Philadelphia from grabbing control of the game.
"That was probably more important than any of my home runs," Braun said. "In that situation with two outs and guys on base, especially diving in like that, if I were to miss it, both guys score and it is at least triple for the batter. I got a good read off the bat and fortunately I was able to come up with it."
Six guys in Milwaukee’s lineup delivered multiple hits, as Lucroy joined Braun with three hits on the day. After scoring just four runs in a series loss to the Braves, the Brewers have plated 27 runs on the road trip to start 4-0 away from home for the first time since 1987.
Getting Braun in a groove at the plate would certainly make an already successful trip that much better.
"He had a tough series in Boston and a tough series at home, but this first game of the series here, hopefully it is good news that he is feeling better and getting his swing locked in," Lucroy said. "When he’s locked in, he’s very dangerous."