MILWAUKEE — Manager Craig Counsell didn’t call a clubhouse meeting the day after the Milwaukee Brewers lost Christian Yelich to a season-ending knee injury. The path forward was so obvious, Counsell figured, that everyone knew the way.
“When a guy like that goes down,” Counsell said Monday, when the Brewers reunited with Yelich at Miller Park, “it’s very clear that everybody has to fill in around him. Somebody’s going to get a bigger opportunity. ... That’s how you minimize the loss — guys step up.”
Two more guys stepped up in a 5-1 win over the San Diego Padres to open Milwaukee’s final homestand. Late-August callup Cory Spangenberg delivered a pair of two-out run-scoring hits totaling three RBIs and slumping infielder Travis Shaw snapped an 0-for-20 streak with a pinch-hit home run for a victory that kept pressure on the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs in baseball’s only three-team divisional race.
All three teams won Monday, so the Brewers remained three games behind the first-place Cardinals in the NL Central Division standings. In the wild card race, the Brewers are suddenly within 1½ games of the Washington Nationals for the top spot and one game behind the Cubs, who hold the second spot.
“In the last week or so, we’ve still got it,” Yelich said. “We just find a place to win. For whatever reason we just seem to pull it together in September. It’s a big tribute to the guys.”
Yelich was an observer on Monday, when Zach Davies and three relievers held the Padres to two hits and Spangenberg led the position player group. He made a diving stop to rob a hit from Manny Machado in the first inning, knocked a run-scoring single in the second inning and hit a two-run triple in the fourth off Padres starter Garrett Richards in Richards’ first major league start coming off Tommy John surgery.
Was there any extra motivation to do damage against his former team?
“You know, playing in the playoffs is all the motivation I need,” Spangenberg said. “This is the first time that I’ve ever had a chance, so I want to do everything I can to get there and be able to experience that. ... You have to be in the right spot at the right time sometimes. That just happened to me the last couple of weeks. It was a long wait, but I’m here now.”
It was a showcase of the energy Spangenberg has brought to the Brewers beyond his .735 OPS since a promotion from Class AAA San Antonio on Aug. 24, one week before Keston Hiura’s left hamstring injury opened playing time at second base.
Now that Hiura is on the verge of a comeback, Spangenberg figures to see more time at shortstop, Counsell said. He’s earned it.
“This is a player that, frankly, I anticipated being up here sooner and using more during the season,” Counsell said. “He got off to a slow start and it was just a series of events that it didn’t work out. But it’s a player who’s gotten an opportunity because of injuries and he’s taken advantage of it. Now it’s hard to take him out of the lineup.”
Shaw lost his spot in the lineup because he remains stuck in a brutal, season-long slump. But he worked a critical walk in the ninth inning Sunday that helped load the bases for Ryan Braun’s winning grand slam against the Cardinals and a day later Shaw pulled a Ronald Bolaños pitch to the right field bleachers in the fifth for a 4-1 Brewers lead. It was his first big league home run since June 23.
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“Even on the road trip in Miami, I felt like the at-bats were OK,” Shaw said. “But I needed to see something fall, something positive to happen. I’m hoping that kind of breaks the seal a little bit.”
Said Counsell: “That’s a good sign if we can make him a weapon again.”
It would make a recently-surging team even better. Despite playing significant stretches without Yelich and Hiura, the Brewers have won 10 of their past 11 games and 13 of 16.
“It seems like someone new wins the game every night,” Spangenberg said. “I think that’s just how this team goes. We have a bunch of grinders, a bunch of guys who want to be here and want to play well. It’s been fun.”
Manny Machado of the Padres was booed loudly before every plate appearance and was cheered when he struck out in the sixth and ninth innings. While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Brewers during last year's NL Championship Series, Machado stepped on first baseman Jesús Aguilar's foot, prompting the benches to empty.
"Brewers fans have a good memory," Counsell said.
Catcher Manny Piña (concussion) worked out before the game and then the team doctors checked him out.
On Tuesday, the Padres will start right-hander Chris Paddack, who is 2-0 with a 0.49 ERA and 23 strikeouts in his three previous starts.
For the Brewers, right-hander Brandon Woodruff (left oblique strain) is scheduled to come off the injured list and take the mound. He is 11-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts, but will give way to left-hander Gio Gonzalez (2-2, 4.01 ERA) who is 4-2 with a 3.12 ERA in eight career starts against San Diego.