Nehrir Led Victory Has Milkmen on Verge of League Title, 10-5
It has been a forgettable year for Milwaukee Milkmen outfielder Zach Nehrir, who struggled to try to get above .200 before finishing below the infamous Mendoza Line with a .196 average. However, the two-time American Association all-star is quickly putting those memories in the rearview mirror, leading the Milkmen to a 10-5 victory over the Sioux Falls Canaries on Tuesday night, putting his team a game away from winning the American Association Championship. Nehrir finished 2-4 with two runs scored, a homer, and three RBI and Mason Davis had three hits and scored three runs for the victorious Milkmen.
For the third game in a row, the Milwaukee Milkmen scored first, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Brett Vertigan, who had been named co-Defensive Player of the Year earlier in the day, doubled to lead off the game. He then moved to third on a ground out and scored when Tyler Culbreth’s offering bounced in the dirt for a wild pitch.
This was not the start that Sioux Falls needed, but the team responded, scoring three runs in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead. Logan Landon led off with his first hit of the series, lining a single into center. That brought Andrew Ely to the plate, appearing for the first time in the series. He drilled a double to left-center, sending Landon to third. Next up was Coulter, who grounded a ball to short. Mason Davis was able to knock the ball down, holding Ely at second, but Landon scored to tie the score at one. Coulter reached on the infield single. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, and Ely scored when Damek Tomscha singled into left field. With runners at the corners, Alay Lago hit a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Canaries a 3-1 lead. After Milkmen starter Drew Hutchison struck out Jabari Henry, Tomscha was thrown out trying to steal second to end the inning.
The Milkmen tried to cut into that lead in the top of the second. Davis and Zach Nehrir walked to start the inning and Culbreth found himself in some trouble, but the veteran responded. Christian Correa flew out to right field before the lefty struck out Logan Trowbridge. After Vertigan was hit by a pitch to load the bases, the Canaries starter got Dylan Tice to ground out to end the inning.
After giving up the three first inning runs, Hutchison settled down, retiring the next five batters. In the third, Landon broke up the run with a base hit but, with two down, he was thrown out trying to steal to end the inning.
Culbreth was also pitching well. He struck out the side in the third, but the Milkmen would rally for a run in the fourth to make this a one-run game. Davis singled to start the inning and moved to second on a ground out. Milwaukee made an aggressive move, going for the steal of third and Davis was safe. Correa followed with a base hit up the middle easily scoring Davis to make this a 3-2 game.
In the fifth, the Milkmen jumped back in front. Tice led off the inning with a walk, but it looked like he would advance no further when Culbreth retired the next two batters. However, David Washington kept the inning alive with a single into left-center. That brought Davis to the plate, who grounded a single into the hole between short and third. Tice came around to score to tie the game, and Washington came home as well when Canaries left fielder Mike Hart booted the ball in left. The put Milwaukee on top, 4-3, chasing Culbreth.
Tanner Anderson came on to face Nehrir. The Milkmen right fielder lined a single up the middle. Davis scored ahead of the throw to the plate and Milwaukee was on top by two.
In the top of the sixth, the Milkmen looked to extend their lead. Nicco Blank came on and retired Vertigan to start the inning, but then walked Tice before giving up a base hit to Adam Brett Walker II. Jose Sermo hit a ball deep to right field that Clint Coulter moved too far back on. The ball dropped in front of him for a base hit, but both runners were only able to move up one base as they thought the ball would be caught as well. With the bases loaded and one down, Milwaukee had the opportunity to blow this game open, but Blank was brilliant, getting Washington to hit a shallow fly to left for the second out, then striking out Davis to end the inning
That proved to be huge as Sioux Falls tied the score in the bottom of the sixth. Ely led off with a base hit and the Milkmen turned to Anthony Bender. The first pitch he threw to Coulter, the right fielder blasted over the wall in left-center for a two-run homer, tying the score at five.
The Canaries were right back in the game, but Milwaukee took a commanding lead in the top of the seventh against Ryan Fritze. Nehrir led off with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice. That brought Trowbridge to the plate, who hit a shallow fly ball into left-center. Hart came charging but could not make the catch. The ball dropped in, allowing Nehrir to take third. Next up was Vertigan, who grounded a ball to first. Grant Kay opted to come home trying to get Nehrir, but the throw was wild mallowing both Nehrir and Trowbridge to score. Vertigan moved into second on the error and he scored when Tice followed with a base hit to make it an 8-5 game.
In the eighth, the Milkmen extended their lead to five. Grady Wood came on for Sioux Falls and was greeted by a Davis double. Next up was Nehrir, who got ahead in the count 2-1 before crushing his second homerun of the series. The two-run blast made it 10-5.
The Canaries did not hang their heads, however. Ely walked to start the bottom half of the inning. That brought Coulter to the plate, who hit a flare down the left field line. Davis looked like he had the play, but Walker came on at the last second, running into Davis to knock the ball away for a base hit. That brought Tomsha to the plate, who lined a ball into right field that had hit written all over it. However, Nehrir continued his spectacular night, diving to make a great catch. Milkmen reliever A.J. Schugel then got a ground out and a foul end to end the threat.
Despite giving up the tying homerun, Bender earned the victory. The Milkmen received scoreless innings from Myles Smith, A.J. Schugel, Peyton Gray.
Nehrir not only had two hits, but also walked. He is now 6-11 through the first three games. Vertigan was 2-4 with two-runs scored and an RBI.
The Canaries were led by Coulter, who was 3-4 with two runs scored and three RBI. Ely and Landon each had two hits. Landon scored two runs.
The Canaries will try to keep their hopes alive in Game 4 on Wednesday night. Sioux Falls will likely face Jake Zokan. The Milkmen will go with Tim Dillard. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier