Reminded of two great moments in Brewers history that almost never happened
I’m just as sick and tired of watching classic sports games as the next guy is while the coronavirus crisis approaches the end of month number four.
But I found in the last few days there’s still a soft spot for anything that involves the 1982 Brewers, as their big October games were recycled yet again on Fox Sports Wisconsin.
I’m also pretty much done with any kind of all-time ranking or silly brackets trying to determine everything from best all-time team, best all-time uniform, best all-time mascot or best all-time left-handed starter for an expansion team. It feels like there’s nothing sports-related left to rank on social media.
But then it dawned on me Sunday night while watching some stretches from a couple of 1982 Brewers Classics that I might be reliving the two greatest half-innings in team history. Has anyone done that ranking yet?
Those October moments from 1982 still bring back fond memories for fans old enough to have seen them the first time. For the record, I was 10 and in fifth grade. Now that you see them again, you realize how close they were to never happening.
During the World Series telecasts, NBC’s Joe Garagiola mentioned that Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn called baseball a game of inches, it just depends on who those inches favor. On at least two occasions that October, he was right.
Because the Brewers won the series, I guess you’d have to put the bottom of the seventh inning in game five of the American League Championship Series against the California Angels as the greatest half-inning in the team’s soon-to-be 50-year history. They only scored two runs on Cecil Cooper’s two-out, oppositefi eld single to left with the bases loaded, but those runs turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead, which, of course, was the final score and the win sent the Brew Crew to their only World Series.
But do you remember that Cooper would’ve never batted that inning had Charlie Moore’s infield blooper with one out carried an inch or two further? It’s a play you’d never remember 38 years later. Then you re-watch Game 5 and see it and it makes you say, “wow, that was close.” Moore’s little looper was correctly ruled by the umpires to have been trapped by California second baseman Bobby Grich, but not by much. Instead of two outs and nobody on, Moore reached with one out. Jim Gantner singled but Paul Molitor popped out for what hypothetically would’ve been the third out had Grich caught Moore’s ball.
It’s also kinda forgotten that Robin Yount fouled off some pretty tough pitches by Angel pitcher Luis Sanchez before drawing a walk that got Cooper to the plate. To this day, the ultimate “what if” of the moment was what would’ve happened had Angels manager Gene Mauch made the decision to replace the right-handed Sanchez with left-handed Andy Hassler, who was ready in the bullpen, to face Cooper. That’s a move any manager in the last 30 years would’ve made. But baseball was different in the early 1980s. You didn’t see many pitching changes being made one hitter at a time back then.
Had Milwaukee won the 1982 World Series, there’s no doubt the franchise’s top half-inning of all time would’ve been the bottom of the seventh in Game 4 against the St. Louis Cardinals. Down 2-1 in the series and 5-1 in the game, the Brewers were in danger of losing a second straight game at home in a series where they already had home-field disadvantage. Gorman Thomas popped out on the first pitch and the boo birds rained from the crowd of over 56,000.
Ben Oglivie followed with a bouncer to first baseman Keith Hernandez, who made a perfect flip to pitcher and former Brewers prospect Dave LaPoint, who was a tick late in covering first base. LaPoint dropped the ball and Oglivie was safe. If LaPoint catches it, there’s two outs and nobody on. While Don Money followed with a hit, the third out would’ve theoretically come next on Moore’s pop-up to shortstop Ozzie Smith.
But the baseball gods punished the Cardinals in a big way and it nearly catapulted the Brewers to championship. Gantner doubled to the gap in right-center, Molitor walked and, in what could’ve become one of the most epic moments in Brewers history had they won the series, Yount hit a check-swing line drive that found the perfect spot between first and second base and scored two runs. Cooper’s sharply-hit grounder to third went for a game-tying infield single. Ted Simmons was walked intentionally after a wild pitch to bring up Thomas who laced a double to left-center to bring in the go-ahead runs in a 7-5 win.
Do I remember watching that inning way back when? You bet. Do I remember Yount’s check swing hit? Yes sir. Did I remember the error that made it all possible? Heck no.
The Brewers won the next day to take a 3-2 lead in the series, but, as we painfully know, the Cardinals won games six and seven in St. Louis to win the series. That “what if” that sticks in Brewers fans minds is what might’ve happened had Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers been healthy, especially when they lost a late lead in game two.
But you’re always reminded in sports there’s never just one “what if,” and the separation between opponents is rarely as wide as one thinks.
Matt Frey is the Sports Editor at The Star News.