October 2011

Roenicke surprised by La Russa’s exit

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa retired on Monday morning, and the reaction from his Brewers counterpart was roughly the same as most baseball fans.

“I’m a little surprised,” Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke said after reading the news online.

Ron Roenicke, right, shakes hands with Tony La Russa before Game 1 of baseball's National League Championship Series at Miller Park. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The two saw a lot of each other in 2011, Roenicke’s first year at the helm of the Brewers. Milwaukee and St. Louis split 18 emotion-charged regular-season games before meeting in the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals won in six games, then beat the Rangers in an epic seven-game World Series.

La Russa, 67, went out on top. He said he informed his players on Sunday after the team’s victory parade in St. Louis. That surprised Roenicke, too, because the way the Cardinals fought, especially in the World Series, twice down to their final strike in Game 6, Roenicke wondered in hindsight whether they knew.

“The way they played, you would have thought there was something going on,” Roenicke said. “It was like they were destined to win. There was something there, and whether they just got on a roll or whether they were a group of players determined to win at all costs, something was going on with them near the end of that season. We didn’t play as well as we wanted to, but for six games [in the NLCS], everything went as well as it could go for them.”

It was an NLCS devoid of bad blood, which bucked the pre-series perdictions. The Brewers-Cardinals regular season series had its share of shenanigans, from La Russa’s charge that the Brewers were manipulating the lighting at Miller Park depending on which team was at-bat, to plunkings of Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun in one particularly testy game to the benches-clearing shouting match between the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter and the Brewers’ Nyjer Morgan in another.

In the NLCS, it was all baseball.

“In the postseason, you don’t have time to mess around,” Roenicke said.

Some view the regular-season sideshows as part of La Russa’s legacy, his way of getting in the heads of opponents. In 2010, when the Cardinals and Reds were vying for the NL Central, it was those teams who battled. But La Russa is also considered a master of in-game strategy, and he exits as the third-winningest manager of all-time. His 2,728 managerial victories rank behind only Connie Mack (3,731) and John McGraw (2,763). Only Mack has managed in more ballgames.

La Russa is the only manager in history to win multiple pennants in both leagues and the second to win a World Series title in each.

“His in-game managing is impressive,” Roenicke said. “He’s always prepared for what’s going on and what can go on later in games. I know we all get second-guessed as managers, and things happen where it looks in hindsight like we should have done things in a different way, but you know when you play him that you had better be prepared. …

“When you’re not with him, you don’t hear what goes on in the dugout or what goes on in the locker room every day. You don’t see how he communicates. But I know that in terms of in-game managing, being prepared and knowing what to do, I can’t think of anybody that would be better than Tony.”

Roenicke went on a brief vacation during the first half of the World Series but was back home in Southern California to watch Games 6 and 7. Like many Brewers fans, he watched with mixed emotions.

“You can look at it both ways — the Cardinals knocked us out, and it shows that if we had gone through, we would have had a chance,” he said. “But the other respect is, we didn’t play well in that series against [the Cardinals]. IF we would have played well and beat them, you wonder, ‘Did we miss out being World Series champs?'”

That’s an unanswerable question that was already dogging Roenicke two weeks ago Sunday, when the Brewers were eliminated in Game 6 of the NLCS. With the passage of time, he has been able to better appreciate his rookie managerial season.

“I talked to Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's general manager] on Friday, and have gotten text messages from people from our club and around the league, and, yeah, I appreciate the season we had,” Roenicke said.  “I’m still disappointed we didn’t play better against the Cardinals, but maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.”

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Hawkins part of MLB trip to Taiwan

Hawkins stands in front of the landmark Taiwan 101 building, the world's tallest structure from 2004-10.

Brewers fans should keep an eye on MLB.com in the coming days for Doug Miller’s coverage of the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series, a goodwill trip by Major Leaguers including free agent reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who spent the past two seasons with the Brewers. Hawkins was not listed on the league’s original roster for the trip, but somewhere along the way, he joined the ride.

Miller is along, too, and wrote of the group’s arrival in Taiwan City on Sunday evening.

As players walked through the Taoyuan International Airport concourse, they were received by adoring fans who snapped photographs, took video and cheered them on — often chanting their names.

This continued at the Grand Hyatt in Taipei City, where a contingent that included the mayor and local baseball officials made it through a lobby packed with fans to a ballroom where the official greeting news conference took place.

Manager Bruce Bochy, sluggers Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson and Hawkins answered questions graciously. MLB Asia vice president Jim Small and MLB Players Association representative Tim Slavin also presented Washington Nationals jerseys emblazoned with the uniform No. 100 to local officials to honor the 100th anniversary of the Grand Old Game in Taiwan.

“After all these years waiting, we finally have Major League All-Stars in Taiwan, where we are so passionate,” said Peng Cheng-hao, vice president of the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association, in his opening statements. And soon after he spoke, the mayor of New Taipei City, Dr. Eric Liluan Chu, admitted to being a bit starstruck by the two Bronx Bombers in attendance, Granderson and Cano.

“I am the No. 1 fan of MLB because I lived in New York for seven years, so of course I am a fan of the Yankees,” he said. “Baseball is the national sport of Taiwan. Everyone in Taiwan likes baseball very much. … So today is a new start for Taiwan.” …

As for Hawkins, expect him to scout the local noodle parlors, hot-pot shops and night markets for fresh local cuisine.

“Everyone talks about the food here and I like to eat, so that’s one of the things I’m going to do. Stinky tofu. I want to try that,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins has been Tweeting about his trip, and fans can follow him @Adidas219.

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K-Rod, Yuni join free agent pool

Reliever Francisco Rodriguez and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on Sunday joined a list of Brewers free agents that has grown to eight. Both players had options for 2012 — Rodriguez’s a mutual option and Betancourt’s controlled by the club — that apparently went unexercised.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was not immediately available to confirm that the club had declined those options. Betancourt and Rodriguez were included on a list released by the Player’s Association on Sunday morning of nearly 150 free agents.

Milwaukee’s other free agents are first baseman Prince Fielder, infielders Craig Counsell and Jerry Hairston Jr., outfielder Mark Kotsay and relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito.

The Brewers own exclusive negotiating rights to all eight players until 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, when those players are free to sign with any team.

The Brewers were widely expected all along to turn loose Rodriguez, whose contract was re-worked after his July trade from the Mets to eliminate a clause that would have vested his $17.5 million option for 2012 had he finished 55 games. In return, the price of the buyout was boosted by $500,000, to $ 4 million.

Betancourt’s deal called for a $6 million club option for 2012 or a $2 million buyout, and it had been unclear before Sunday which direction the Brewers would go. On one hand, Betancourt had the second-lowest on-base percentage (.271) among National League hitters who qualified for the batting title and the third-most errors (21) among NL shortstops. On the other hand, Betancourt drove in more runs (68) than any NL shortstop not named Troy Tulowitzki, and the Brewers do not have any clear candidates to take over that position.

“I thought Yuni Betancourt was a better player than what the critics had said,” Melvin said earlier this month. “I thought he did a very good job. If you look at the on-base percentage, that’s the thing that always seems to hurt him. [Defensively] I thought he made a lot of very good plays, a lot of outstanding plays. … I’m very surprised about some of the critics on him, personally.”

The primary shortstop at Triple-A Nashville in 2011 was Edwin Maysonet, who has already signed a Minor League contract for 2012 that includes an invitation to big league Spring Training camp.

The list of free agent shortstops who held starting jobs in 2011 includes Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll and Alex Gonzalez. The list could grow to include the Cardinals’ Rafael Furcal, the Red Sox’s Marco Scutaro and the Pirates’ Ronny Cedeno if chose clubs decline options.

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Narveson undergoes hip surgery

The Brewers announced this afternoon that left-hander Chris Narveson had undergone surgery Tuesday on his left hip. He will visit Dr. William Raasch on Wednesday for a follow-up and then return home to North Carolina to continue therapy. The club expects Narveson to be ready for Spring Training.

Assistant general manager Gord Ash said he would provide some details about this unexpected news later today.

Narveson was 11-8 with a 4.45 ERA during the regular season and is expected to be part of a five-man starting rotation set to return intact in 2012. He made six apparently healthy relief appearances during the postseason, pitching four times in the NLCS against the Cardinals. Narveson worked in relief of Shaun Marcum in Game 6 of that series and allowed a pair of homers and five earned runs in a loss that dashed the Brewers’ World Series hopes.

In other roster moves:

– The Brewers outrighted infielder Josh Wilson and right-hander Mark DiFelice to Triple-A Nashville.

– Right-hander Brandon Kintzler was reinstated from the 15-day disabled list, and left-handed relievers Manny Parra and  Mitch Stetter were reinstated from the 60-day disabled list.

With those transactions, the Brewers’ 40-man roster returned to capacity.

The club also re-signed shortstop Edwin Maysonet to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp. Maysonet, who turned 30 last week, batted .290 in 103 games at Nashville in 2011.

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Brewers thank fans for support in ’11

The Brewers took out a full-page ad in Wednesday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and sent an email blast to fans to say thanks for supporting the team more than three million strong this season.

“Thank you, fans, for a record-breaking 2011 season!” the message read.

The Brewers set franchise records with 96 wins and 57 home wins on the way to winning the National League Central. They also set a franchise attendance record by drawing 3,071,373 fans to Miller Park, ranking seventh of 30 Major League teams and ahead of big market clubs like the Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers, Dodgers and Mets.

“I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but the players comment about how they love that the stands are always full,” Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger said in September. “This is a park that plays well to our strength — a home run park. But the pitchers are able to pitch well here, I think because they can relax, knowing we’re going to score runs. I think it feeds on itself.”

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Bradley back in AFL; Boggs a free agent

Left-hander Jed Bradley, one of the Brewers’ two first-round Draft picks in 2011, is back on the Peoria Javelinas’ roster today in the prospect-rich Arizona Fall League. The Brewers just announced that he would take righty Tyler Thornburg’s spot.

You might remember that it was Thornburg replacing Bradley last month, after Bradley developed a very minor groin issue. Thornburg pitched in three AFL games, allowing two earned runs and three hits in 5 1/2 innings. He also picked up a win.

Assistant GM Gord Ash said Bradley was simply ready to pitch, so the team gave him back his spot.

The club also announced that oufielder Brandon Boggs had elected free agency. Boggs bounced between the Brewers and Triple-A Nashville during the first half of 2011, and wound up hitting .241 with nine homers in 94 games with the Sounds. With that move, let the Brewers’ offseason begin!

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Brewers season ends with Game 6 loss

Someday, Milwaukee may raise a mug to the 2011 Brewers. Fans will toast co-MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and the nuttiness of Nyjer Morgan and his alter egos. They’ll toast Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo starting games, the mustachioed John Axford closing them out, baseball’s best home team and Beast Mode.

Someday. But not Sunday.

Shaun Marcum’s disastrous first inning transformed Game 6 of the National League Championship Series into a Cardinals hitting clinic, and Miller Park into a somber farewell for free-agent-to-be Fielder. The Cardinals scored nine runs over the first three innings alone, an early barrage that sent the Brewers to a season-ending 12-6 loss and sent St. Louis on to the World Series.

The Cardinals took the NLCS, 4-2, and will host the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. It’s the Cardinals’ 18th NL pennant, and their sixth since the LCS format was introduced in 1970, most of any NL franchise. Albert Pujols & Co. are playing for the franchise’s 11th World Series championship.

The Brewers are going home.

“I would have liked to get two from them this time and get some revenge,” Hall of Famer Robin Yount said outside the Brewers’ clubhouse.

His club was in the opposite position when these teams last met in the postseason. Milwaukee took a 3-2 lead to St. Louis during the 1982 World Series and wound up losing a pair of games — and the championship — at Busch Stadium.

Now the Cardinals have bounced the Brewers again.

“These Cardinals are getting under my skin,” Yount said.

The Brewers won’t have to wait long to see the Cardinals again. After St. Louis makes a one-game stop in Miami to open the Marlins’ new stadium, the Cardinals and Brewers will meet for Opening Day at Miller Park on April 6, 2012.

“We were real, real close this year,” said Morgan. “We just didn’t get the cigar.”

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Game 6 pushed to 7 p.m. CT

Because the ALCS ended tonight, with the Texas Rangers advancing to the World Series for the second straight year, the NLCS is the only game going Sunday. That means Game 6 between the Brewers and Cardinals will start at 7:05 p.m. CT at Miller Park.

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NLCS Game 6 fan guide

A national anthem by and a ceremonial first pitch by a surprise guest will highlight Sunday’s festivities prior to Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.

The Brewers are asking fans to PLEASE NOTE THE TWO POSSIBLE GAME TIMES:

The start time of tomorrow’s Brewers game is dependent on the outcome of tonight’s ALCS Game 6 between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers.

If the Tigers win to force a Game 7, tomorrow’s Brewers game will be at 3:05 p.m.

If the Rangers win and advance to the World Series, tomorrow’s Brewers game will be at 7:05 p.m.

PARKING LOTS: The Miller Park parking lots will open three hours prior to first pitch.

GATE TIMES: Gates to Miller Park will open two hours prior to first pitch.

RALLY TOWELS: All fans in attendance will be given a Brewers Rally Towel upon entry, courtesy of the Potawatomi Bingo Casino.

CEREMONIAL FIRST PITCH: The ceremonial first pitch will be tossed by a special surprise guest.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The national anthem will be performed by William Johnson of Milwaukee.

GAME TIME: First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. or 7:05 p.m. CT. The game will be televised exclusively on TBS.

MILLER PARK ROOF: The roof and panels will be CLOSED for tomorrow’s game.

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Roenicke defends Kotsay start

He was asked about a temptation to start Craig Counsell, who has an excellent track record against Cardinals Game 4 starter Kyle Lohse. But Brewers manager Ron Roenicke answered with a strong defense of his decision to start another veteran bench hand, Mark Kotsay, in Game 3.

Kotsay had a mixed night. He was doubled off second base and couldn’t convert a key out in center field in the first inning, but walked twice in the game and homered. The non-catch was a key play in the Brewers’ 4-3 loss, and Roenicke’s decision to play the 35-year-old the key fodder for columnists.

“I know you guys hammered me for Kotsay yesterday,” Roenicke told the roomful of reporters, “but you know, Kotsay is a good outfielder. I didn’t put somebody out there who was a bad outfielder. I just didn’t have Carlos Gomez in there. Carlos is a fabulous outfielder.

“I feel good with Kotsay in the outfield. And I like his offense. Really, what it comes down to is Kotsay versus Nyjer [Morgan]. It wasn’t ‘Gomey,’ because Gomey is great in the outfield but he doesn’t play against right handers. He hasn’t started against a right hander in, I don’t know, four months?

“[Lineup decisions] get tough in the playoffs because you can’t ride things out if a guy is in a little funk. Sometimes you want somebody in there that has a chance to get hot. Kotsay did what he was supposed to do yesterday. He got a home run and two walks in front of our big boys. That’s what he was supposed to do. Okay, he got caught off second base. ‘Kots,’ I know, wasn’t happy about that play, but he did what he was supposed to do.”

Kotsay started again in Game 4, this time in right field. He is 1-for-13 against Cards starter Kyle Lohse, but Hart is 2-for-17 lifetime against Lohse and 1-for-12 in the NLCS.

“Corey’s scuffling lately, and he scuffled against Lohse,” Roenicke said. “So I talked to him last night after the game, and it sounded like putting Kotsay out there was a good way to go about it.”

Here’s the full lineup:

Nyjer Morgan CF
Mark Kotsay RF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Rickie Weeks 2B
Jerry Hairston Jr. 3B
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
George Kottaras C
Randy Wolf LHP

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