Milwaukee reliever Jim Henderson tags out Starling Marte to complete a key double play.
Jeffrey Phelps/Jeffrey Phelps/AP
MILWAUKEE — It’s unclear as to how many 2-6-1 double plays have been turned before, but the Milwaukee Brewers turned one in a huge spot Saturday night to help them to an eighth consecutive victory, a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With the game tied at 2 in the top of the eighth and Pittsburgh runners on the corners, 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen hit a foul pop-up that was caught by catcher Jonathan Lucroy behind home plate. The Pirates then put on a play to try and steal the go-ahead run.
Pittsburgh’s Travis Snider tagged from first base to try and draw a throw from Lucroy to allow Starling Marte to score from third. The first part of the play happened, as Lucroy threw down to second. What the Pirates didn’t anticipate was how heads up Milwaukee shortstop Jean Segura and reliever Jim Henderson would be on the play.
Segura cut off Lucroy’s throw just before it hit the ground and fired a bullet to Henderson covering the plate for the out.
The Brewers then connected for three consecutive singles — with one out — to take the lead in the bottom of the inning and held on for the one-run victory in front of a sellout crowd of 42,828 at Miller Park.
Milwaukee’s eight-game winning streak is its longest since winning nine in a row last April.
"It’s a play that we have in place that we work on all spring that won us a ballgame last year," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We tag at first, draw the throw to second and then send the runner from third. Once the ball’s out of the hand from the catcher … or whoever makes the play, it could be short-right field it could be short-left field, foul territory … Marte breaks on the throw, they had to make a baseball play.
"We tried to steal a run. The other day we talked about scoring in different ways. We tried to steal one; they executed a baseball play to keep us from doing it."
Hurdle went out to talk to home plate umpire Bill Miller about Henderson illegally blocking the plate but later admitted the play was legal. The emotion caused by not only retiring one of the best hitters in baseball — McCutchen — in a big spot but getting out of a jam caused Henderson to spike the ball after the out was called.
"I was jacked to see him (Henderson) do that," Lucroy said. "I was so excited. He caught it and put it right on the guy and it was awesome. I let him take it. He was right in front of me; I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not even going to try and get in there.’ It just happened so fast.
"That was a really weird play, but it should be the top play."
Henderson, who hadn’t yet seen the replay of the play when he spoke with reporters, said he was most pleased with his decision to cover home plate on the foul pop-up in the first place.
"Some pitchers — that ball was only 10 feet from the plate — may just hang out by the mound," Henderson said. "I’m glad I went to the plate so there was an opportunity for that."
Unlike most of the previous seven wins during the streak, the Brewers had to fight late to pull out a victory. A loss seemed on the horizon after Milwaukee squandered a golden scoring opportunity in the bottom of the seventh.
With Milwaukee’s Mark Reynolds on second and Khris Davis on third and one out, pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks hit a shot to left that was caught by Marte. But Davis didn’t get back to the bag to tag up in time and held up at third. Carlos Gomez then grounded out to end the inning.
The Pirates then quickly put runners at the corners with one out against Henderson before the double play that changed the game occurred. When things are going right, even turning a 2-6-1 double play looks routine.
"These are great to win," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "These give you a lot of energy when you come out winning these games, especially late."
A win wasn’t sealed without another defensive gem in the top of the ninth.
After Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez walked Pedro Alvarez to start the frame, Russell Martin hit a routine double-play ball to Aramis Ramirez at third. Second baseman Scooter Gennett’s throw to first was wide of the bag, but Reynolds made a spectacular catch while keeping his foot on the base.
The play was reviewed by the umpires and confirmed in 41 seconds.
What might get lost in the craziness of Saturday’s eighth inning is the complete nature in which the Brewers are winning games. While the clutch hitting didn’t arrive until late, Milwaukee received another quality start from Yovani Gallardo and three more scoreless innings from its bullpen.
Gallardo yielded two earned runs on six hits and a walk, while striking out six. Zach Duke retired the first Pirates batter in the seventh and Tyler Thornburg finished the inning by striking out Gaby Sanchez and inducing Jordy Mercer to fly out to right. Henderson, who picked up the win, pitched the eighth and Rodriguez closed the ninth for his fourth save.
The Brewers now have had their starting pitcher not allow three or more runs in 25 consecutive games, and the bullpen currently sports a big-league best 0.83 ERA.
"It was fun," Reynolds said of Saturday’s game. "It gets your adrenaline pumping, the crowd is into it, tight game. The play Hendo made at home (was great), blocking like a hockey goalie. It was a fun game."