Every kid who grew up playing baseball with his or her friends, usually on an uneven, poorly-groomed makeshift field has at one point or another not just imagined but also self-narrated the scenario:
Playoffs … Tie game … Step into the box … A home run and the crowd goes wild ….
It’s a dream most kids never come close to experiencing, but Friday evening, in the seventh of Game 1 of a National League Division Series, Rowdy Tellez lived it.
Tellez, the Milwaukee Brewers’ first baseman, stepped into the batters box of a scoreless game and sent a near-capacity crowd of 40,852 into a frenzy when he smashed a 1-2 fastball from Atlanta Braves right-hander Charlie Morton to center for a two-run home run that proved to be the difference as Milwaukee beat the Braves, 2-1, to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
The home run brought Morton’s day to an end and gave the Milwaukee fans a few extra moments to celebrate before Tellez emerged from the dugout to tip his cap.
“That’s what you hope for,” Tellez said. “Most of the time when you practice it’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded but it’s a good feeling right there.”
It’s a feeling that Tellez has become accustomed to since he came to Milwaukee in a July 6 trade from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Milwaukee found itself in dire need of a first baseman after Keston Hiura couldn’t dig himself out of a season-long funk and his replacement, Daniel Vogelbach, was lost to a serious hamstring strain in late June.
In Tellez, the Brewers not only found a solution to their first base problem but also a badly-needed left-handed power bat to bolster an offense that was still emerging from an early-season funk.
“Rowdy’s presence as a power presence in the lineup is something that’s impactful,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell earlier in the season. “It changes the game with one swing of the bat. It’s something that every team wants and is looking for.”
But the trade also provided Tellez with something even more rewarding: a feeling of being wanted, not just by an organization or teammates, but by an entire community which latched onto Tellez both because of his unique name as well as his contributions on the field, which proved to be pivotal as the Brewers made their charge to the top of the NL Central.
With each trip to the plate, the chants grew louder “Row-dy, Row-dy, Row-dy…” and the hulking, yet soft-spoken, Tellez can’t help but smile thinking about it even if it doesn’t yet seem completely real to him.
“Coming here, it’s just been kind of a blessing,” Tellez said. “Everybody wants to be somewhere where they can hear their name chanted and be wanted. It’s just great. The fans are awesome here. They’re loyal. I couldn’t ask for a better environment to be in.”
Tellez had been a Brewer for just 10 games when he first caught fans’ attention by blasting a pair of home runs in a 6-1 victory over the White Sox on July 24. He added two more over the next three games to match his total in 50 games with the Blue Jays, firmly establishing himself as a fan favorite in the process.
The chants grew louder when he stepped into the box in the seventh inning of an Aug. 4 game against the Pirates and wiped out a 2-1 deficit and reached a crescendo two nights later when hit a 10th-inning, walk-off single in Milwaukee’s 2-1 victory over the Giants.
But that was nothing compared to what he experienced Friday night when he went from fan favorite to playoff hero with one trip around the bases.
“I still can’t really breathe, I’m still out of breath,” Tellez said. “It was a crazy moment but we played good all the way around. That’s Brewers baseball. Fans are back. It’s awesome to have fans back. We have such a strong fan base. We can’t say thank you enough to them.”
He was also quick to credit his pitching staff for making the moment possible.
While Morton held the Brewers scoreless through the first six innings, Milwaukee’s pitchers did the same. It started with Corbin Burnes, who worked out a first-inning jam that had runners at the corners with nobody out after the Cy Young candidate walked Atlanta’s first two batters and catcher Omar Narvaez allowed a passed ball.
Tellez helped Burnes escape when he snared Ozzie Albies’ chopper down the first base line and, after stepping on first for the inning’s first out, fired a throw home that Narvez was able to snag just in time to turn and catch Jorge Soler as he tried to score.
“It was the play of the game,” Counsell said. “A play like that, it’s not a play you can practice. It’s just an instinctual play that you know the runner might be going and you take a shot at it.”
Burnes got out of the inning without further damage then cruised through his next five before turning things over to right-hander Adrian Houser, who allowed a solo home run by Joc Pederson to make it a one-run game.
Josh Hader took over for the ninth, but left the potential winning run stranded as he closed out Milwaukee’s first postseason victory since Game 6 of the 2018 NLCS.
“It couldn’t have happened without the way we pitched tonight,” Tellez said. “That was the key to the game. Good defensive plays, pitching staff. Everybody played well, everybody played hard.
“It’s playoff baseball.”