Hi, my name is Eric. If you're a long time reader of this blog, then you might know me as Brett's friend: Brewers fan Eric. Earlier this week, Brett asked me to do the write-up for the first game of this Brewers-Rays series to give this game my #UNIQUEPERSPECTIVE and naturally I jumped at the chance. I love baseball, I love the Brewers and I love the Rays, and I have been looking forward to this series all summer.
The similarities between these two teams have been written about before, but I'll list them again if you haven't been paying attention. They came in to this series with identical records (57-53). Both teams are managed by (relatively) young and inexperienced managers, Both teams feature a lot of potential pop in the line-up, both teams have mediocre bullpens anchored by all-star closers, both teams have undergone significant personnel changes in the last few seasons as they attempt to make a break from a previous era while holding on to an aging all-star/face of the franchise type player (Longoria and Braun), both teams have relied a lot on an ace having a bounce back year (Archer and Nelson), both teams started this game with 24 year old starting pitchers that no one expected to be in the rotation, and finally both teams have come out of nowhere to compete for playoff spots this year.
So how did we get here, and what do we do now?
"Baseball is a weird sport, but you've gotta respect that." -Richard M. Nixon
I am a big Jake Faria fan, and he did not disappoint tonight. The first inning started strong with a strikeout of Eric Thames, the Brewers' free-swinging Korean import, and a flyout for Domingo Santana. He got a scare after a 10 pitch walk for the 2011 NL MVP, followed by another walk to Red Sox cast-off Travis Shaw, but eventually settled down getting Aguilar to flyout to end the inning, and things were looking good.
"Chicago Sucks" -Me, just now and many other times
In September of 2008, I was beginning my freshman year of college in Southeastern Wisconsin, about halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago. During that month I went to a party off campus. I don't really remember whose house it was or why I went, but I do remember that down in the basement there was a TV tuned to a game between the Brewers and the Cubs. The people at the party seemed to be evenly split between fans of both teams. I grew up in Indiana, and I did not have a baseball team. I had played baseball before, but when it came to MLB I didn't have any emotional investment. It was in this moment, that I knew I had to make a choice, I had to pick a side: The Milwaukee Brewers or the Chicago Cubs.
But the more I thought about it, there really was no choice, growing up in Indiana had given me a Lake Michigan sized chip on my shoulder when it came to being a sports fan (perhaps you fellow "small market" fans can empathize), and especially when it came to competing with Chicago, and so that's the award-winning story of how I became a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers: mostly out of spite for Chicago. And 2008 was a magical ride for me and Milwaukee; the Brewers made their first trip to the Playoffs since 1982, and I cheered along as they lost to the eventual World Series Champs, and through the ups and downs of the next 6 seasons.
"Baseball is a game of anticipation, and whole heck of a lot of waiting around"
As Brandon Woodruff took the mound for the bottom of the first inning he, too, got a quick leadoff strikeout of Corey Dickerson and my immediate first thought was "Oh God, the symmetry is real", but my fears were quickly abated when Duda singled (also proving once and for all that Brett doesn't have the gift of precognition by ending Woodruff's no-hit bid in the first). Unfortunately for the Rays, this inning also started a trend for them as they would repeatedly load the bases and then, like the burning FedEx plane in the opening of Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away, leave them stranded with no hope of ever getting home. As a general rule, when I am a fan of both teams I usually root for the pitchers, but it was kind of impossible not to feel sorry for the Rays offense and their 11(!!) men left on base.
This really was a classic game for the Rays, and by classic I obviously don't mean in the sense that it was particularly memorable, but more in the sarcastic I-can't-believe-this-is-happening kind of way. The pitching duel between Faria and Woodruff was pretty impressive for a couple of rookies as Faria did everything right (9 strikeouts and just 4 hits and 2 walks through 6) and still got tagged with the loss, while Woodruff barely kept it together (7 hits and 2 walks) while getting bailed out by the Rays offense. I doubt there's a stat for this, but the Rays must lead the league in stellar outings by pitchers that still lose the game 1-0, etc.
"Misery loves company" -a phrase I coined just now
I love underdogs, I think most people do, but for me it's different. I almost prefer to be a fan of bad teams. I like the low expectations, and I love it when they surprise me (see both the Rays and Brewers this season). When my teams are favorites or title contenders I interpret every minor thing as a sign that the whole ship is sinking and it's time to trade everyone for prospects. I am truly not fun to be around when my team is good.
In the summer of 2014, after living in and around Milwaukee for 6 years, I moved to Tampa for grad school. I was excited. I was going to miss Milwaukee for sure and the Brewers (who were in first place the day I moved out), but excited for Florida and to watch the Rays who were perennial dark-horse contenders back then (remember that?). As another aside, the night before I moved I went to Miller Park and watched K-Rod blow a save in the ninth and the Brewers lost which would kind of be a metaphor for that whole season (they finished 82-80 after starting the season 51-33).
Of course that year, the Rays had their first losing season since they dropped the Devil name, and would ultimately be remembered as the season where Joe Maddon bolted for Chicago. Because I didn't grow up with a baseball team to root for, and I became a fan later in my life it's easier for me to root for different teams in baseball vs say basketball so I was always open to the Rays, but that initial outrage when he left hit me right in the feels. I had no real connection with this team, but seeing Chicago rip out it's heart like that was terrible. I knew in that moment that I had a reason to root for this team forever, and once again it has mostly been to spite the Chicago Cubs, the bane of my baseball existence.
"You win some, you lose some, but that's why we play the game: you just never know, you know?" - Jane Fonda
After the starters were pulled in the 7th, the bullpens got to work and even after joking about their mediocre status, the game was really over by that point and the Brewers won 2-0 with the Milwaukee bullpen shutting down the Rays.
Looking ahead, both teams really need to win this series, the Brewers are trying to catch the dreaded Chicago Cubs for the NL Central title, and the Rays are keeping pace in the AL wildcard race or even attempting to steal the AL East. I'm excited for the rest of the games this weekend, and both games should have a mini playoff feel as the teams are starting to get a little desperate to make a move in the standings.
This has been my #UNIQUEPERSPECTIVE
- The Brewers uniforms today were so far and away better than what the Rays have going on. The ball and glove logo really is great, and the Rays still can't decide if they're sun rays or sting rays.
- I love Orlando Arcia
- Wilson Ramos has been really underwhelming. What is it about the Rays and their inability to get ANY productivity from their catchers? Even good catchers suddenly become worse under the bright lights of the Trop.
- The Rays offense needs to get it together now because with Davies and Nelson coming up it's not going to get any easier this weekend. Cobb and Archer should keep them in the game, but will they be able to take advantage????