Home state hero connects with walk-off
Miller hits three-run shot in 11th inning of series finale
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Ned Yost was sorting through some fan mail last week when he came across a letter from an annoyed fan in La Crosse, Wis.
The club organizes an annual "La Crosse Day at the Brewers," when bus loads of fans make the three-hour-plus trip to catch a game at Miller Park -- and to watch hometown hero Damian Miller play.
But Yost sat Miller on La Crosse Day last year, and the irritated fan made sure to remind the skipper that this year's version of the event fell on Wednesday.
"They wanted to see Damian Miller play," Yost said. "So I circled it on my calendar to make sure that Damian Miller was going to play on 'La Crosse Day.'"
That decision paid off handsomely for the Brewers. Miller socked his second career walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th inning to power the Brewers to a 6-3 win over the Astros before 31,862 raucous fans. The backup catcher's heroics came in front of La Crosse Mayor Mark Johnsrud, who threw out the first pitch, as well as an entire contingent of hometown supporters in the right-field bleachers.
The Brewers swept the Astros and finished their nine-game homestand at 8-1. Milwaukee has won 12 of its last 14 games to boost its record to 14 games over .500, its high-water mark this season before its recent month-long slide.
"We come into this clubhouse every day expecting to win," center fielder Bill Hall said. "People walk through the door, and you can just see the confidence on their faces. We know we're going to win that day. It's not, 'We're going to try to win.'
"We know we're going to win that day. It doesn't always happen, but at least having the confidence to do that helps out a lot."
Hall walked to the plate in the 11th inning with the score tied, 3-3, and almost ended the game with one swing. He jogged out of the box after clubbing a ball from Astros reliever Dave Borkowski (1-3) that nearly cleared the left-field fence, but the ball thumped off the wall, drawing yells of "Billy, run!" from the Brewers dugout.
Hall churned around the bases and barely beat out the throw to second base with a headfirst dive.
"If I wouldn't have gotten to second base, not only would it have been a kangaroo court fine, but I might have been in a little bit of trouble," Hall said, grinning. "But I got there, so that's all that matters."
Houston then issued an intentional walk to Geoff Jenkins, bringing Miller to the plate with one out. He worked the count to 1-2 before smashing a line drive into the Brewers bullpen. Bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel caught the ball and raised his arms in triumph.
Miller, making just his 20th start of the season, finished 3-for-5 with four RBIs.
"It's one of those things that I'm sure everybody would like to experience," Miller said. "When you hit it and see it go out, you're basically floating around the bases, and then you realize that your hometown's out there. But you don't just want to do it for La Crosse; you want to do it for all the Brewers fans."
Miller's only other walk-off shot came against Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers on May 9, 2000, when Miller was a Diamondback.
The Brewers fans showed their appreciation by roaring for minutes and refusing to leave, drawing Miller out of the dugout for what he said was his first curtain call.
"It was a great day for him," Hall said. "I couldn't have picked a better time for him to hit one. It was perfect."
The rally made a winner of Dave Bush (6-6), who pitched two scoreless innings of relief in his first appearance out of the bullpen this year.
Yost decided to skip Bush's turn in the rotation so Yovani Gallardo and Ben Sheets can start on regular rest, with the Brewers enjoying an off-day Thursday. Bush will make his next start on eight days' rest on Sunday against the Cubs.
"The 10th and 11th are a little tougher than the first and second," Bush said. "I knew there was a good chance I would pitch the last couple days, so I was ready to go."
Bush made two appearances out of the bullpen last year but didn't fare very well in either of them.
The right-hander gave up a run in 1 2/3 innings in a 7-6 win against the Giants, but he then got tagged for five runs -- four earned -- in the eighth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Pirates on July 25. But that didn't shake Yost's confidence in Bush to make the switch once again.
"I don't take yesterday into account," Yost said. "These guys are good players. They come ready to play, and I trust them."
Brewers starter Jeff Suppan pitched a quality start for the first time in a month, holding the Astros to three earned runs in six innings.
But the star of the day clearly was the La Crosse hero, Miller.
"He's going to get the key to the city in La Crosse now," Hall said.
Miller wasn't quite sure what that entailed -- "the largest six-pack in the world?" Miller speculated.
Whatever La Crosse would reward Miller with, he was just glad his hometown fans didn't have to leave disappointed for the second year in a row.
"The stars lined up perfectly today," Miller said. "I made up for last year. Hopefully, they're satisfied now."
Kelvin Ang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.