In his 11 years with the club, Rickie Weeks has seen the transformation of the Milwaukee Brewers first hand, growing from a 94-loss team in 2003 to being two games away from a World Series in 2011. He’s been a part of two playoff teams and two other clubs that were in the postseason hunt (2007, 2012) late into the year.
There was a common thread that linked those teams together.
"When we have a good team, there is always that ‘it’ factor," Weeks said.
And what about this current incarnation of the Brewers, who started the year 20-8 and after Wednesday night’s 8-3 victory over Baltimore, head into the final series of May at 32-22 and in first place in the National League Central?
By winning the first two games against the Chicago Cubs on Friday and Saturday, the Brewers could end the month of May right where they started it – at 12 games over .500.
"That ‘it’ factor is coming back from a large (deficit) or winning that close ball games. Obviously this season, so far, we’ve had a knack for winning those close ball games," Weeks said. "That makes that borderline team that much more better."
Should the Brewers win their next two, the 31 days of May could be a net zero on paper.
But in the long run, it could mean much more.
To this point in the month, there have been three and four-game losing streaks, three walk-off wins (and a walk-off loss), three extra -inning games and 10 one-run games in which the team has gone 5-5.
Within those games nearly everything has been seen and done.
Catcher Martin Maldonado and first baseman Lyle Overbay pitched. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy has once again appeared at first. In games, Elian Herrera (four), Jeff Bianchi (three), Maldonado (three), Mark Reynolds (three) and Logan Schafer (three) have all played different positions.
Injuries or suspension has knocked out All-Stars Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. Even a reliever who wasn’t there was called into the game.
"Things are going to come up that we can’t control and it’s going to help out – it will," Overbay said. "I think we can see the overall picture in that. Sometimes the young kids, a young clubhouse, they don’t’ know that. They’ve never seen that kind of stuff. And they start panicking a little bit and it’s like no, it’s OK. It’s ‘why are they doing this and that?’ That’s what we’ve got to do. We have to do that."
Then there was Tuesday night.
After losing a game in the ninth inning Monday, the Brewers jumped out early on Baltimore, 5-0, then fell behind, 6-5, late. Within that momentum change, Herrera saved extra bases with a strong defensive stop and throw at third base.
Lucroy hustled down the line on a swinging bunt, forcing an errant throw to first which allowed the tying run to score. Then, with the team out of position players, Yovani Gallardo pinch hits in the bottom of the 10th inning and drives in Reynolds with a game-winning double.
"I guarantee you that if you let up and give up they’ll never go your way. I guarantee you that," Lucroy said. "But, things will go your way sometimes whenever you grind it out and continue to play hard and do whatever you gotta do. Do your best. (Tuesday) was a good example of that.
He said he’d never seen a pitcher pinch-hit and drive in a game-winner. If Herrera had played any third base prior to that moment, he didn’t remember. And Lucroy knows that if he didn’t run out his at-bat, it’s a routine put-out.
"This is all about playing hard and working hard and never giving up and never letting up because this game is too crazy, as evidenced (Tuesday) night about things that can happen," he said.
Is that the definition of "it?"
Perhaps it’s too early to say definitively, but the veterans on the team know it can lead to that.
"All wins count," Weeks said. "When you get down to September and you’re two games back or two games up, that game back in April, that game back in May, that close game that you grinded out and you came back and won, that makes up ground I think in September trying to get to the postseason. Games like that count and when you win like that and you get to September or possibly even the postseason, and you get down a couple runs in a game and you need that big hit, you could tell yourself that you’ve done it before."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.