Views from the home away from home

Game 3 of the National League Championship Series is tonight in Los Angeles, with the series tied at one game each.

The Brewers are not playing at home, but some of the Brewers are playing pretty close to home, as the Los Angeles Times reports:

Your National League Championship Series matchup: L.A.’s team vs. L.A.’s team. …

“I don’t think there’s any team that has more L.A. connections than we have,” Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said.

Braun attended Granada Hills High. Outfielder Christian Yelich, the MVP-to-be, attended Westlake High. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who attended Chatsworth High, said all three players now live in Malibu.

So does Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who last month tore his Achilles tendon on the beach, charging to the rescue of his labradoodle, who was under attack by a larger dog. His dog is fine. His rehabilitation includes a modified scooter, decorated in Brewers gear.

Milwaukee is the smallest market in the major leagues, and a long way from the Pacific Ocean.

“We’ve got a lake,” Attanasio said. “Maybe not an ocean, but a lake.”

Attanasio loves to tell the story of how, not long after he bought the team, a guy driving a garbage truck ran up to welcome him to Milwaukee.

“And he took his glove off too,” Attanasio said.

The kids that grew up in the big city swear by Milwaukee, even if they did not know much about the place before playing there.

“I just had the vision of watching Brett Favre play in the snow, so I just assumed that it was cold,” Braun said.

Braun, a six-time All-Star, twice skipped the chance for free agency to sign contract extensions with the Brewers. Attanasio calls him “a cheerleader for the city.”

Said Braun: “It’s such a special place to spend the summer, because it’s such a small window of good weather. In L.A., we’re spoiled. We have good weather year-round. In Milwaukee, it’s a three- or four-month window, so every day, there’s a carnival, concert, festival, something going on. Everybody is outside. It’s 45 degrees, and they have shorts and T-shirts on.

“The time we spend there is the best time of the year in Milwaukee.”

Braun, in his 12th season there, said he has helped newcomers Moustakas and Yelich find good places to eat, nice neighborhoods, and ways to navigate what relatively little traffic there might be.

“It’s an awesome city,” Moustakas said. “I’m from L.A., but I try to keep to myself. I’m not a big-city guy.”

“It’s a great baseball town,” Yelich said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

The Brewers ranked in the top 10 in attendance this season and last, despite ranking 30th in market size and playing in a city with a population closer to the size of Fresno than L.A. In Attanasio’s 14 seasons as owner, the Brewers have had seven winning seasons, three postseason appearances, and one 90-loss season.

The smallest market in the majors might be the easiest one in which to sell tanking, but Attanasio wants no part of it.

“You can break things down, but it’s not easy,” he said. “Just because you break them down doesn’t mean you’re going to get back to where you want to get to.

“Plus, I just hate to lose.”

Attanasio could have eliminated his frequent Milwaukee commute without sacrificing ownership of a major league team. However, he declined to assemble a group to bid on his hometown Dodgers when Frank McCourt put them up for sale in 2011, even though one of Attanasio’s investors in the Brewers has season tickets “literally behind the dugout” at Dodger Stadium.

“I’ve got things set up, where God willing, my kids can take this over some day,” Attanasio said. “I’m dug in here, for the long haul.

“Every ownership group is different. This is all mine. It’s all the fun, and all the pain. It’s all on me. I have other investors, but I’m the only decision-maker.” …

“It’s going to be way different than when we played there during the regular season,” Yelich said. “It’s going to be strictly a business trip. You won’t be able to cater to anybody’s needs. You’re not going to be able to say hello. You have to minimize the distractions.

“I may even turn my phone completely off.”

But how will all your friends track you down to ask for tickets?

“No one,” Yelich said with a small smile, “is getting any tickets.”

This blog reported Friday about how Major League Baseball hates the idea of the Brewers possibly in the World Series. Nancy Armour can’t understand why:

Why do they hate fun?

Yes, the Brewers are a small-market team. The smallest of the small markets, to be exact. They don’t have the cachet of the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Boston Red Sox, and they don’t have Houston’s bragging rights. The radio guy rivals the soon-to-be NL MVP for star power.

But, man, is Milwaukee fun.

Just the kind of wacky fun baseball needs.

The Brewers took down the mighty Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Friday night with the kind of quirky game you’d normally see in spring training, not Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Manager Craig Counsell pulled Gio Gonzalez after two innings, the pitcher who relieved him took Kershaw deep and the guy who pinch-hit for him singled in a pair of runs.

There also was a catcher’s interference call to keep one inning alive, and an overturned call on a steal to extend another one. The closer nearly gave the game away, only to strike Yasiel Puig out.

And if that’s not enough for you, the 6-5 victory gives all of Milwaukee a free hamburger.

See, wacky.

“We’re a fun team to watch,” infielder Travis Shaw told USA TODAY Sports. “I think once people get to watch us a little bit, they’ll enjoy watching us.”

You wouldn’t know it from the rabid, towel-waving, sold-out crowd at Miller Park, but baseball is in the doldrums. Attendance was down sharply this season, TV ratings lag well behind the NFL’s and kids just don’t dig baseball like they used to.

Part of that is the length of games and the late starts – Friday’s game lasted 4 hours and 2 minutes and ended at 12:14 p.m. Eastern. But the bigger problem is that all the fun has been sucked out of baseball by esoteric stats, shifts and pitch counts that serve the same purpose as bubble wrap.

The Brewers are not immune to this. Few other managers have embraced the shift like Counsell, and he’s a matchup savant.

But he’s not afraid to turn traditional philosophy on its head, either.

Take Friday’s game.

Gonzalez hadn’t pitched since Sept. 30, so he was fresh enough to pitch a complete game. Yet Counsell’s plan was to have him go two innings and let the bullpen take over. Sure enough, he brought Brandon Woodruff in to pitch the third, and he retired the Dodgers in order the next two innings.

He also took Kershaw deep to right-center to lead off the bottom of the inning and tie the game.

“It certainly changed the energy in our dugout from what you think is going to be the kind of grind-it-out game against Clayton,” Counsell said. “That happens, it gives everybody life.”

With Woodruff dealing as he was, you’d think Counsell might have let him go deeper in the game. Nope. When Woodruff’s spot in the order came up in the fourth, Counsell brought Domingo Santana in to pinch-hit.

Smart move, as Santana drove in a pair of runs with a single to left.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Gonzalez said. “You’ve got this kind of stuff where you’ve never been a part of it and now you’re doing it. It’s exciting to see the revolution.”

OK, but some pitchers would be less than pleased at getting such a quick hook. When that question was posed to him, however, Gonzalez’s face left no doubt how crazy that idea is.

“It’s exciting,” he said. “At the end of the day, everybody’s pitching. Everybody gets a chance to pitch. Which is what you’re playing this game for. Everybody wants to be a part of it. Everybody wants to grab an at-bat.”

That’s the most appealing part of these Brewers. They’re playing with the kind of abandon that made them fall in love with the game in the first place. The roster is a glorious mishmash of home-grown products and castoffs reveling in a second chance, so they don’t much care what roles they’re playing or who’s getting the credit.

Derek Jeter will rue the day he thought trading Christian Yelich was a good idea — if he doesn’t already. Jesus Aguilar, whose solo homer in the seventh turned out to be the game-winner, bounced around the minors and had a few cups of coffee in Cleveland over three seasons before the Brewers claimed him off waivers before last season. Mike Moustakas escaped the purgatory that is now Kansas City before the trade deadline.

“We play like a family,” Aguilar said. “We don’t got like a specific hero. The most important thing is to win games.”

And win games they are, 12 in a row — thus, the free hamburgers from local institution George Webb.

The team that wins Game 1 of the NLCS is an overwhelming favorite to reach the World Series. Since the NLCS expanded to seven games 32 years ago, the Game 1 winner has gone on to clinch the pennant 23 times. The last team to buck that trend was the San Francisco Giants back in 2012.

Which means the whole country could be seeing more of the Brewers, like it or not.

“It’s something different,” Shaw said. “The three teams that are left besides us have all been there, done that. We haven’t been … so it’ll be a nice change.”

If you don’t enjoy what the Brewers are doing, then you don’t really enjoy baseball.

And you sure don’t enjoy fun.

 

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