MILWAUKEE — There were 11,740 fans in the stands and a buzz — a real one, not the pumped-in-over-the-sound-system variety — back in the air on Opening Day. Just in the nick of time, Travis Shaw and the Brewers gave those folks something to get loud about.
Shaw’s two-out, two-run double capped a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning, and after Josh Hader pumped 100 mph heat to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard in the top of the 10th, Orlando Arcia’s bouncer to the middle of the infield scored Lorenzo Cain for a walk-off 6-5 win over the Twins and a thriller of a reunion between the Brewers and their faithful.
• Box score
“There’s no doubt the fans were part of this today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “On a day like today, a home crowd is what kind of keeps you going when you’re down and they’re still giving you energy. You get that one little crack as we did in the ninth, and the crowd’s right there with you, and you felt it.”
“A pretty good first day back,” added Shaw, the veteran slugger who was with the Brewers from 2017-19 and then returned on a Minor League invite just before the start of Spring Training.
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Talk about a day that turned on a dime.
For eight innings, not much went the Brewers’ way. Opening Day starter Brandon Woodruff surrendered three runs in four hard-fought innings — all on two-out, two-strike pitches. Cain stranded runners in scoring position in his first two at-bats coming off a year away, before coming through the third time up — but not driving in a run. New third-base coach Jason Lane made the wrong call in his first critical decision at the position, sending Shaw home in the fifth inning to be an easy out. Reliever Eric Yardley surrendered a 456-foot home run to Byron Buxton in the seventh that might not have landed yet.
Even the Racing Sausages had a rough time, getting booed when they appeared via video. But there was no need to get salty about that; those stadium employees aren’t among the limited individuals with Tier I or Tier II access, and thus can’t be on the field again this season.
Brewers hitters had gone 11 up, 11 down since the play at the plate before Twins closer Alex Colomé hit Kolten Wong on the right hand with one out in the ninth. Then Colomé fielded Keston Hiura’s comebacker and threw high to second base for an error. Christian Yelich followed with a rocket to right field — 106.7 mph off the bat, according to Statcast — and Max Kepler got a glove on it but couldn’t make the catch. Yelich had an RBI single. Two batters later, with two outs and Yelich at second as the tying run, Shaw looked for a first-pitch cutter away and got it, driving a double to the right-center-field gap for a 5-5 tie.
“After a tough ending my first time here, it was nice to hear the roar again,” said Shaw, who was cut loose amid a deep slump in 2019 after topping 30 homers for the Brewers in ‘17 and ‘18. “This is a place that feels like home to me.”
The Brewers made sure not to squander their good fortune.
Hader stranded the Twins’ automatic runner at third base in the top of the 10th inning before the Brewers won it. Cain went to second base to start the inning and advanced on Omar Narváez’s single, then scampered home on Arcia’s bouncer and scored the game-winning run with a headfirst slide that beat the throw to the plate.
Like Shaw, Cain had been away a while. When the Cardinals had a spate of COVID-19 cases while in Milwaukee for last year’s rescheduled home opener, Cain elected not to play the remainder of the season. A quadriceps injury this spring threatened his availability for Opening Day, but he got healthy in time to make an impact on Thursday.
“I thought it was [hit] right at the pitcher, actually,” Cain said. “I kind of [based] my read off his reaction. When he put his head down, I took off.”
The Twins were left feeling like they gave a game away.
“We start that inning and those same balls are hit, I think we’re going to make those plays a vast majority of the time and know what to do,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Ultimately, today, it just didn’t happen.”
It was the Brewers’ third Opening Day walk-off win in franchise history, joining Jonathan Lucroy’s 10th-inning sacrifice fly against the Rockies in 2013 at Miller Park and Sixto Lezcano’s grand slam in the bottom of the ninth in 1980 at County Stadium.
Cain, however, delivered the next best thing on Opening Day in 2019 when he made a leaping catch to rob the Cardinals of a tying homer in the ninth. It doesn’t count as a walk-off, but it was close, and it sparked a celebration a lot like Thursday’s.
“That was awesome,” said Cain of sharing joy with the fans again. “We hung in there. We definitely didn’t swing the bats early on, but we continued to battle, continued to get on base and things continued to open up for us. You want to celebrate a walk-off with the fans. That makes it more exciting.”