Milkmen Dominate Early to Grab Series Lead, 11-6
A six-run first set the stage as the Milwaukee Milkmen scored early and almost at will on their way to an 11-6 victory over the Sioux Falls Canaries in Game 1 of the American Association Championship Series. It was a contest that few expected, as the teams combined for five homeruns and both bullpens struggled in stretches. Four different Milwaukee players knocked in two runs. Jabari Henry led the way for Sioux Falls, knocking in four runs on four hits.
The Milwaukee Milkmen took command of this game with six runs in the bottom of the first inning. Things got off to a good start for Sioux Falls starter Tyler Herron as he struck out Brett Vertigan to begin the bottom of the first, but things turned quickly for the Canaries ace. Dylan Tice walked before Adam Bret Walker II singled in the left field. That brought Jose Sermo to the plate, who dropped a single into center field. Milwaukee manager Anthony Barone waved home Tice, who beat the throw to put the Milkmen on top, 1-0. Next up was David Washington, who doubled into the gap in left-center field, bringing both runners around to score to move the Milkmen lead to three. A groundout by Mason Davis moved Washington to third, and he scored when Zach Nehrir lined a double to the wall in right field. That brought Christian Correa to the plate, who drilled a 1-1 pitch over the wall in right field for his first homerun of the postseason. That gave Milwaukee a 6-0 lead.
David Holmberg had breezed through the first inning for Milwaukee, but Sioux Falls got two of those runs back in the top of the second. Alay Lago let off with a base hit, and Jabari Henry followed with a blast deep over the wall in left field for his first homer of the championship series.
The Milkmen responded with a run in the bottom of the second. Vertigan led off with a double and scored when Tice followed with a single up the middle.
After giving up the homerun, Holmberg settled down, retiring six of the next seven batters with an error being the only runner to reach. The left-hander found himself in a little bit of trouble in the top of the fourth. After retiring the first batter of the inning, Henry beat out a ground ball for a single and moved to second when Roy Morales followed with a base hit in the left field. With two on in just one out, Holmberg buckled down, striking out Grant Kay and Ryan Brett to end the threat.
Surprisingly, Holmberg came out after the fourth, suffering from an apparent injury. Right-hander Ryan Kussmaul came on and struck out the side in the fifth. However, Sioux Falls rallied against him in the sixth. After Damek Tomscha grounded out, Lago lined a single up the middle for a base hit. That brought Henry back to the plate, who drilled a double to the wall in right field. Lago came all the way around to score to cut the deficit to four. Henry moved to third on a ground and Kussmaul looked like he had mitigated the damage when Gay hit a grounder to Davis at short, but the shortstop booted the ball, allowing Kay to reach and Henry to score. That cut the deficit to three.
The Canaries were back in the game, but that feeling did not last long as Milwaukee got those runs right back in the bottom half of the inning. Herron retired the first hitter, but Vertigan turned on an 0-1 pitch, crushing it a solo homer. Next up was Tice, who quickly fell behind 0-2, then fouled off a pitch to stay alive. Two pitches later, he went deep, the third homerun hit by the Milkmen on the day. That was significant as Milwaukee had finished last in homeruns during the regular season.
That would be it for Herron. The Canaries ace left after 5.1 innings, yielding nine runs on 10 hits. He walked four and struck out five.
Kevin Folman came on and was brilliant over the next 1.2 innings. The reliever did walk three batters, but struck out three as well, including Tice with two on in the bottom of the seventh.
Down by five, the Canaries tried to peck away at the lead in the top of the eighth. A.J. Schugel came on and was greeted with a double by Lago. Next up was Henry, who laced a ball to the wall in left for a double, easily scoring Lago to make it a 9-5 game.
Milwaukee was not about to let Sioux Falls climb back into this contest, scoring two runs in the bottom of the eighth. Canaries reliever D.J. Sharabi retired the first two hitters, but Washington kept the inning alive by drawing a walk. Davis followed with a double to the wall in right. Barone remained aggressive, waving Washington home ahead of the throw. Nehrir followed with a double to score Davis to extend the lead to six.
In the ninth, Milkmen closer Peyton Gray came on to finish off the contest. He had not been scored upon in the 32 regular season appearances, but Clint Coulter was not intimidated, blasting his first post-season homer. Sioux Falls would get no closer than five, but it served notice that the Canaries were not intimidated by the Milwaukee closer.
Kussmaul (1-0) earned the victory. Herron (0-1) took the loss.
All nine starters had at least one hit for Milwaukee. Tice, Washington, Nehrir, and Correa each drove in two runs for the Milkmen. Vertigan, Tice, and Washington each scored twice as well. Washington drew three walks and he and Tice each reached base four times for Milwaukee.
Henry finished 4-4 with two runs and four RBI for Sioux Falls. He also homered and doubled twice. Lago was 3-5 with three runs scored.
Game 2 is set for 4:30 tomorrow evening. Two former Major Leaguers will go when Tyler Danish takes on Henderson Alvarez.
By Robert Pannier