MILWAUKEE — In sports, everyone loves to recognize the first time something happens.
Brewers rookie right-hander Hiram Burgos made his Major League debut Saturday night at Miller Park, so his fellow starting pitchers decided to have a little fun with his “firsts” after the game.
Placed on Burgos’ chair was “the first towel sat on,” while baseballs signed by the other starters were inscribed with things such as “first ball warmed up with,” “first comebacker,” “first changeup that bounced” and “first strikeout hitting against the Cubs” sat in his locker.
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There was even a ball marking the second foul ball hit against him. Why the second? Because it was noted the fan who caught the first wouldn’t give the ball back.
But the “first” that mattered the most was his first victory. Tossing five innings and allowing just one run in Milwaukee’s 5-1 victory over the Cubs, Burgos became the Brewers’ first starting pitcher to win their big league debut since Yovani Gallardo in 2007.
The Brewers are just the second team in baseball history to start 2-8 and win their next six games to get back to .500. The only other team to do it – the 1977 New York Yankees – went on to win the World Series.
“He threw the ball really well,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “When you see a guy coming out for his first outing and he’s able to command pitches like that, it tells you a lot about a guy.”
Showing no signs of first-start jitters, Burgos not only commanded his pitches well, but handled his emotions like a veteran.
“I was very anxious before the game, waiting to go out there and warm-up,” Burgos said. “As soon as I got out there and I threw my first pitch, everything went away. Following (catcher Jonathan) Lucroy, we had a plan. I just attacked the hitters and threw strikes.”
Called up from Triple-A Nashville on Thursday, Burgos gave the Brewers exactly what they needed. Without an overpowering fastball, Burgos kept Chicago’s hitters off-balance all night long.
None of the five hits he allowed were struck hard, as the Cubs had well-placed hits in the fourth inning and scored their only run against him on a flared single off the bat of Alfonso Soriano. The hardest hit ball of the night came with runners on second and third and two outs, but Dioner Navarro’s fly ball died at the warning track.
Burgos threw a variety of off-speed pitches Saturday night, but his best pitch was his changeup.
“Everything was working,” Burgos said. “I had all my pitches and they were working for strikes, especially my changeup. There were more lefties than righties in the lineups so that was a good pitch.”
At just 83 pitches, Burgos was going to come out for the sixth inning but got burned by something he’ll have to get used to in the National League. With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth, the Brewers had runners at second and third when Roenicke decided to pinch hit Blake Lalli for Burgos.
“There were discussions on (letting him hit),” Roenicke said. “The tradeoff is, depending on what was going to happen with guys on base, the tradeoff is, do we try to score runs when we know he’s only going one more inning? We thought with guys in scoring position that we needed to hit.”
The decision paid off, well with the help of the Cubs’ defense. Lalli hit a grounder that Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo booted just enough to not have a play at the plate. Another Cubs’ error in the inning led to another run, giving the Brewers a 3-1 lead.
Meanwhile, Burgos eagerly anticipated the final out of the game, waiting to celebrate his first win. Milwaukee’s bullpen did the job, not allowing a run in the final four innings, and the rookie could celebrate with his parents, wife, daughter and the owners of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy where he went to high school in attendance.
“This is a blessing right now,” Burgos said. “Since I was young I was dreaming of playing in the big leagues and I didn’t even know it would be like this. I am just happy I helped the team win their sixth game in a row. That was my main thought was to just go out and help the team win a ballgame.”
What’s next for Burgos is an unknown. The Brewers don’t need a fifth starter until April 30, so Roenicke will discuss what the plan for Burgos is with general manager Doug Melvin on Sunday.
“Right now I really don’t know,” Burgos said of the next step. “I just have to come here tomorrow and do my normal workout and get ready for that next start.”
But for now, he can enjoy being 1-0. And the first towel he ever sat on in the big leagues, too.
“You can’t explain it,” Burgos said. “Right now I can’t even tell you what I’m feeling.”