MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t the best team in baseball, but they might be its most resilient. And no one epitomizes that resiliency more than Travis Shaw.
Acquired in a December trade with Boston, the Brewers third baseman had to leave the team briefly in June when his daughter, Ryann, was born with a heart deformity and underwent two complicated surgeries. Not only have Shaw and his wife, Lindy, had to deal with Ryann’s ongoing medical situation, he scuffled a bit at the plate during the second half after putting together a monster first half.
But just when the Brewers’ impressive season-long resiliency was stretched to the breaking point Saturday by a streaking Chicago Cubs team determined to bury them for good, Shaw demonstrated what has made this season so special, both for him and the Brewers. His two-run, opposite-field home run off All-Star closer Wade Davis in the bottom of the 10th inning gave the Brewers an improbable 4-3 victory over the Cubs and kept them in the chase for a wild card berth in the National League playoffs right about the time everyone started counting them out.
During an intense season in which Shaw has had to juggle baseball and real life, the game-winning homer was a well-earned feeling of pride for a player who is as responsible as anyone for Milwaukee’s contending status with only a week left in the season.
“(There’s) a lot going on still outside the field and it’s a nice getaway to come here every day,” Shaw said. “It just feels really good to help us win.”
Especially when the Brewers’ backs were plastered to the outfield wall on a steamy Saturday in September at Miller Park. The Brewers entered the four-game series 3½ games behind the Central Division-leading Cubs and with the knowledge that if they swept the series they would be in first place tonight.
Instead, they lost the first two games of the hard-fought series in agonizing fashion, both times in the 10th inning. It looked like a third consecutive 10th-inning loss was in the works for Milwaukee, but Ryan Braun doubled and Shaw launched a 1-0 curveball into the Brewers bullpen, igniting a raucous on-field celebration.
“Travis has just been a rock through this whole thing, he really has,” manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s going through more than we talk about. We don’t talk about it a lot to respect what he’s going through, but he’s been able to put together a wonderful season under very difficult circumstances.”
The same could be said of his team. The supposedly rebuilding Brewers have overcome a great deal to contend almost from wire to wire season, starting with non-existent expectations on Opening Day.
They suffered nine walk-off losses. They lost several games by football scores. They had two six-game losing streaks in the second half of the season. They lost starting pitchers to injury on and off all year, including a freak season-ending injury to ace Jimmy Nelson two weeks ago. Finally, they entered Saturday’s game having lost three straight — one at Pittsburgh, two to the Cubs — in the final inning.
Every time they slipped, however, the Brewers picked themselves up. Whether it was a big first inning, a clutch victory or a well-timed hot streak, they displayed remarkable resiliency time and again.
After the Brewers dropped two to the Cubs to basically eliminate themselves from the division race, many thought they would show up flat Saturday. Not Counsell.
“There was no doubt in my mind; there was no doubt,” he said. “They’ve battled when people have counted them out and continued to not believe (in them) and they’ve continued to show up and believe and fight until the very end.”
Saturday, the end meant dealing with Davis. He was 32-for-32 in save opportunities this season and took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth when Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia tied it with a home run down the left-field line. The Cubs, as they have done all series, scratched out a run in the top of the 10th and it looked like history would repeat itself until Shaw lit up Davis, who unofficially blew two saves in one game.
“Today it was trending the way the last two games have trended, going to extra innings, they get one in the 10th,” Shaw said. “The resiliency of this team has just shown itself time after time this year. Arcia coming up huge in the ninth and then Brauny getting on with a double right there to set it all up. When our guys are against the wall like today, I mean this is as must-win as you get and we were able to come through.”
Now the Brewers face seven more games that are close to must-win status. Even if they beat the Cubs today, they’ll probably be too far back to catch them in the final week, but Shaw’s homer kept them in the thick of the race for the second wild card with Colorado and St. Louis.
“It’s one of the most special seasons I could imagine given what he’s going through with his daughter,” starter Brent Suter said. “We’re praying for him every day. For him to come out and do what he’s doing, it’s something special.”
After three riveting games in a playoff-type atmosphere, the Brewers aren’t backing down. Of course, they haven’t all season. Neither has Shaw.