Many people in life have ‘a moment’. And, in the annuals of life, one time…..just one time, a person has ‘the moment’. It is defining.
On Friday with most of the crowd headed for the parking lot, the 31 year old rookie sensation, Junior Guerra, was pitching a gem for the Cream City Nine. He had stepped into the top of the ninth against the mighty Pirates, having giving up only two hits the entire evening and now was leading 3-0. He appeared to be in complete control.
His journey in Pigsville had begun, not against the Pittsburgh nine, but when rookie General Manager, David Stearns’ made his first official move after being hired in that position. He claimed, last Fall, one Junior Guerra off waivers from the Chicago White Sox. As Manager, Craig Counsell said, ‘I don’t think anybody accurately forecasted this. But he was claimed for a reason. He was claimed because we thought there were possibilities there and there was talent there. We thought he was a guy that had gone about it in a really different way and got to this place in a really different way, but that he was a really good pitcher at this point. This level of success, maybe not. But yeah, I think we thought he’d have success.’
And he showed his confidence that really wasn’t at all about the Bob ‘Hurricane’ Hazel of this generation, but rather the rookie manager’s grasp of the psychology of the game. In the 9th inning, Junior had begun with only 87 pitches and Counsell was attempting to have his starting pitcher finish a complete game, the first complete game for the Brewers since last July. The first batter, Matt Joyce, got a single. Then John Jaso was walked. Two on, nobody out, Gregory Polanco was coming to the plate as the tying run.
It is one thing to face Jaso, but it was quite another to face this guy before the big guy in the Buc’s lineup.
The eyes of the 29,000+ were all on the manager in the dugout. Would he come out and bring in, what has been, a very iffy bullpen to try to wrap up the game? Or would he let his rookie pitcher try to complete the game in style? It was the beginning of ‘The Moment’ that will live with Brewer fans forever. Out came Counsell, looking quickly right down the first base line, then eyes down and walked up toward the mound as he approached the pitcher and the gathering infielders, Carter, Gennett, Villar and Jonathan Lucroy (in his last inning and game as a Brewer?).
Collectively the crowd at Miller Park was disappointed expecting the manager to accept the ball from his pitcher. But now he became a fan-legend in the land of beer, brats and cheese. With Guerra offering the ball to the manager, Counsell refused to accept his pitcher’s decision and slapped him on the back and it was now his game to try to finish. With stunning and overwhelming approval and cheers from everyone in the crowd and those watching on television, Counsell left the mound, with an astonished pitcher receiving slaps with the gloves of the other players on the mound. This was ‘The Moment’ when the guy from Whitefish Bay proved to be the next great Brewer manager, in the shadows of George Bamberger and Harvey Kuenn. Right then and there, Craig Counsell would be marked in history as doing something that most in the stands had never seen. But to be truthful, all were very happy to see. What a confidence booster. This was one giant step for the kid from Whitefish Bay.
The rest of the story, although a bit bizarre, finished with a win. Polanco hit into a fielder’s choice as Carter forced the runner at second. Andrew McCutcheon hit into another fielders choice to drive in Pittsburgh’s only run when Marte singled off the head of the second base umpire before Jeffers relieved Guerra and retired Kang to end the game with another (sic) Brewers victory. While the details of the game were unusual, THE story was about the decision that Counsell made on this historic night. ‘I really wanted him to get through the inning’, Counsell said of Guerra. ‘I thought he pitched like he deserved to, and I don’t think he was tiring or anything like that. I thought he was still making pitches.’
Guerra had won his seventh game of the year. He had lowered his ERA to a most respectable 2.70, ranking him #8 among Major League starters, just behind Stephen Strasburg and ahead of Jake Arrieta. And for all the stat rats, in 16 starts over 103.1 innings this season, the ‘Velvet Venezuelan’ has posted a 3.67 FIP, and an 85/34 K/BB rate while generating ground balls (46.3%) and infield pop ups (11%) along with a 20.8% K rate and an 11% swinging strike rate.
But the real story that will live well beyond the wins and losses of the pitcher will be…’Do you remember the time when Counsell walked out to the mound and kept the pitcher in the game?’ That will be ‘The Moment’. And that is when Whitefish Bay’s favorite son became THE manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in the minds of the Crew’s faithful forever.