Hold your Mackey Sasser quips. Brewers catcher Gregg Zaun missed three throws back to the pitcher’s mound in the first inning on Monday because he was playing with a shoulder injury, not because he had a case of the yips.
And just for good measure, Zaun made up for what he called an “embarrassing” first inning in the field with a career night at the plate.
Zaun tied career highs with four hits and five RBIs in the Brewers’ 17-3 win over the Pirates, collected his first two hits of the season from the right side of the plate and, after three misfires that rattled Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo, overcame a knot in his shoulder to make perfect throws back to the pitcher.
Two of his returns sailed over Gallardo’s head, and Zaun pounded a third throw into the ground, eliciting some groans from the crowd. Zaun’s next throw was a fastball that hit Gallardo right in his glove, and the smattering of boos turned into a loud cheer.
”It was embarrassing, and I was starting to wonder myself,” Zaun said. “But I couldn’t raise my arm.”
Zaun was hurt during a home plate collision with the Nationals’ Ian Desmond during the Brewers’ April 16-18 trip to Washington and blamed a knot in the back of his shoulder for his poor throws. He experienced muscle spasms in the first inning, but got treatment while the Brewers batted in their half of the frame and was fine the rest of the night.
The last time Brewers fans were witness to such troubles was in 2008, when Dodgers catcher Gary Bennett — a former Milwaukee backup — lost confidence in his throws. He had a four-RBI game at Miller Park on May 15 that season, but was placed on the disabled list five days later and sent to extended spring training to work on what he described as a “mental block.” Bennett has not played in the Major Leagues since.
Gallardo was rattled by Zaun’s misfires on Monday.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “That’s never happened before, and it happened three times. I didn’t know what to do or say.”
Said third baseman Casey McGehee, who committed a throwing error in the inning: “That was probably the weirdest first inning I’ve ever seen without a run being scored. … You just got the feeling that anything could happen. It was a weird day. There were a lot of things you don’t see on a daily basis that happened. That’s the good thing about this game, and the frustrating thing about this game.”
It turned into a very good game for Zaun at the plate.
The switch-hitting Zaun entered the night 0-for-16 as a right-handed batter but made a mechanical adjustment with hitting coach Dale Sveum and calmly worked a walk from Duke in the second inning before he scored on a close play at the plate.
In the third inning, with two outs and runners at second and third base, Duke picked around the strike zone against Brewers right fielder Corey Hart for three pitches before throwing an intentional Ball 4. Bases loaded.
“I know why they were walking Corey to get to me,” Zaun said. “It was obvious they weren’t going to give him anything to hit. They did it in Pittsburgh and I didn’t make them pay.”
He did make Duke pay this time, with a well-placed double that one-hopped the wall just inside the left-field foul line. The bases cleared, and the Brewers had a 5-0 lead.
“That was huge, especially for my confidence,” Zaun said.
Zaun added a single in the fourth inning — again batting right-handed against Duke — then turned around for two more hits batting as a lefty. His final hit was a two-run double in Milwaukee’s nine-run eighth inning, capping his fourth career four-hit game and his fourth career five-RBI game.