MILWAUKEE • The Cardinals thought they had taken care of that Christian Yelich thing. They retired him not once, but twice in the third inning Tuesday night at Miller Park.
Now, if you’re doing the math, that means Milwaukee had at least 10 hitters come to the plate in that inning. The Brewers, in fact, had 11 batsmen. Three of them were left on base when Yelich struck out to end the inning. Five others scored as the Brewers kick-started their way to an 8-4 rout of the Cardinals, taking their fifth win in six games against their National League Central Division rivals.
But you really didn’t think Yelich, the 2018 league Most Valuable Player, had nothing at all to do with this. How do you think the Brewers’ other three runs were produced?
Yelich, greeting rookie Ryan Helsley, making his major league debut in the fifth inning, launched his eighth homer in six games here against the Cardinals this season. That three-run drive gave him 18 runs batted in against the Cardinals and 24 in eight games dating back to two games in St. Louis in September last year. He has homered in the last seven games against the Cardinals in which he has had an official at-bat.
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Jack Flaherty, having perhaps the worst start of his young career, allowed nine hits in 2 2/3 innings, including a solo homer by Lorenzo Cain and a two-run shot by Yasmani Grandal in the third inning.
Giovanny Gallegos, back in the majors after a paper trail had him on the Memphis roster for a day, was brilliant in relief, fanning Yelich and four others in two innings. After Gallegos allowed his second hit in the fifth, he was lifted for Cherokee Nation product Helsley, who was called in to face ... the dreaded Yelich.
“We put Helsley right in the fire,” said manager Mike Shildt. “People will say you could have walked him to get to (Ryan) Braun. But what are you really going to tell a guy that comes to the big leagues — that (he) is not good enough to pitch to a good hitter? I’m not going to send a message to a guy making his major-league debut like that.
“He went right at him. It was a tough situation. But it’s all downhill from here, right?”
After that encounter, when Yelich ripped into a Helsley cutter, the rookie found his footing and, throwing pitches as fast as 100 and 101 mph, set down the Brewers in order in the sixth and seventh, striking out four. “He was fantastic,” said Shildt.
Helsley said he had been nervous in the bullpen but not on the mound. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It means the world to have everyone back at home reaching out and supporting me. It’s not just for me. It’s for everybody back at home watching.”
But, looking ahead to Wednesday’s finale of the series and next week’s three games with the Brewers in St. Louis, Shildt admitted he may go all Barry Bonds on Yelich, where he would walk the Brewers slugger every time he could.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again,” Shildt said. “It’s a fine line in giving him the Bonds treatment and at some point feeling like it’s going to end.”
Batting for the first time, Helsley showed speed on the bases, too, by legging out an infield hit in the seventh. He said he had run some track in high school. “I went to a really small school (in Sequoyah, Okla.). I had to do quite few sports,” he said.
Helsley was rubbed out in an historic play. Matt Carpenter grounded into a double play, something he hadn’t done since Sept. 4, 2017 at San Diego. Carpenter went 691 at-bats and 825 plate appearances between double plays.
“I had no idea,” said Carpenter.
Cain hopped on a Flaherty slider and drove it over the left-field wall for his second homer of the season to open the scoring in the third.
“He hit a mistake,” said Flaherty. “More power to him.”
With one out, Ryan Braun dribbled a broken-bat grounder under the glove of charging third baseman Carpenter and the ball rolled into left field for a double. With two out, Grandal sent a slider high and far over the left field wall.
“Grandal hit a slider that was on the inner half. It wasn’t over the middle of the plate,” said Flaherty.
Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar singled and Orlando Arcia walked to fill the bases for Brandon Woodruff, an outstanding hitting pitcher.
A better slider ensued and Woodruff, who was five for five at that point, doubled home two runs to swell the lead to 5-0 and finish Flaherty for Gallegos. Flaherty’s short start marked the 11th time in 17 games a Cardinals starter had failed to go more than five innings.
Flaherty has contributed three of those starts, Miles Mikolas three, Dakota Hudson three and veterans Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright one apiece.
“The truth hurts,” said Shildt. “You can’t run from it. You’ve got to figure out a way to be better.”
The Brewers have bashed the Cardinals in virtually every game here but Shildt offered, “I would be more inclined (to say) we have a Christian Yelich problem — and one that we’ve got to solve. I don’t want to disrespect the rest of their lineup but ... you look at it in a holistic manner and you remove Yelich, the numbers are a lot more favorable. The reality is that we can’t do that.”
“I couldn’t get out of (the third inning),” said Flaherty. “They hit everything I threw. I made a bunch of good pitches and they hit every single one of them, including the pitcher.
“(Woodruff) hit a 2-2 slider in a spot where I put it where I wanted to. What the hell are you going to do? It was a pretty good freakin’ slider. Somehow he hit it
“With the stuff that I had today and the mentality I went in with, that’s not what I expected at all. It wasn’t like I was throwing stuff right down the middle,” said Flaherty, who already had watched the game once on video and planned to again.
“You don’t want an outing like this ... it was a crazy one,” said Flaherty.
He’s no Yelich now, but former Miami teammate Marcell Ozuna cracked his fourth homer in three games for two of the Cardinals’ four runs. But he is not “locked in,” he said.
“Not yet,” he said. “Day by day.”