‘Not today’: Lorenzo Cain’s catch at the wall saves Brewers’ Opening Day victory over Cardinals

March 29, 2019

MILWAUKEE — Craig Counsell spoke for all Milwaukee Brewers fans when he first saw that Jose Martinez had somehow connected with a pitch from Josh Hader and sent it toward the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen in right-center field.

“I said a bad word,” Counsell admitted. “I hope the kids don’t see it.”

Moments later, Lorenzo Cain said the two words he repeats whenever someone tries sneak a home run over his head.

“Not today.”

That was Cain’s message to the Cardinals as he perfectly timed his leap to rob Martinez of a potential game-tying home run and preserve a thrilling 5-4 Opening Day victory for the Brewers before a sellout crowd of 45,304 on Thursday at Miller Park.

Cain said he wasn’t expecting to have to perform any outfield heroics after watching Hader overpower the first five batters he faced, striking out four of them.

But Martinez, batting for second baseman Kolten Wong, who had homered off Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin and reliever Junior Guerra to account for three of the Cardinals’ runs, drove a Hader fastball toward the fence.

“The way he was throwing, I definitely didn’t expect a ball to come out there to me,” Cain said. “I was trying to time it. I was talking to the baseball out there, telling it to come down so I can have a chance to make a play.”

From his spot in right field, Christian Yelich had a perfect view as the play unfolded.

“I could see it from the side, so I was hoping it would stay in,” Yelich said. “I couldn’t tell off the bat. I was running over there and I could tell it was going to be close. He does such a good job of tracking the ball and finding the wall. It’s a lot harder than it looks. He does a great job of it, and I knew if it was going to stay in the yard he was going to catch it.”

Cain’s catch was just the capper to a remarkable day that offered promise that this year’s version of the Brewers just might be able to match last year’s team when it comes to creating scrapbook moments for its fans.

“That’s a great way to start the year,” Yelich said. “That game had a little bit of everything in it. I don’t know if there’s been an ending like that on Opening Day. I can’t remember there being one. It was fun to watch. It gave our team a little bit of a jolt right there, so hopefully we can build on that.”

The Brewers found themselves in a 3-0 hole after Wong and Harrison Bader connected on consecutive pitches from Chacin for home runs in the second inning. But Chacin settled down and retired 12 of the 14 batters he faced before coming out with one out in the sixth inning.

“Jhoulys did a nice job,” Counsell said. “He made a mistake to Wong, a pitch that just came back over the middle of the plate. But other than that, he was really, really good.”

The Brewers wasted little time striking back as Mike Moustakas hit a solo home run in the second inning and Yelich followed singles by Chacin and Cain with a three-run blast to center field in the third to give Milwaukee a 4-3 lead.

What proved to be the decisive run, however, came from a far less likely source. Chacin drove a 2-2 pitch from Miles Mikolas into the Brewers bullpen in the fifth inning to make it 5-3. It was just the second homer of his career and the first since 2013.

Counsell said that Chacin told him he would hit a homer this year and reminded him of that as he got back to the dugout.

“I told him last year the same thing, too,” said Chacin, who hit .161 last year with eight singles and one double. “I was lucky. That was a pitch right down the middle. I was just thinking, don’t strike out, don’t strike out. I just got lucky and I hit it.”

That must’ve been pretty much how Martinez felt after making solid contact with a pitch from Hader, who had garnered 11 swinging strikes from the first five Cardinals he faced, with only Yadier Molina making contact with a foul ball and a fly out to open the ninth.

“He was electric today,” Counsell said. “You don’t see that many swings and misses from major league hitters.”

All 21 of Hader’s pitches were fastballs, and Counsell could see no reason for catcher Yasmani Grandal to mix things up.

“If you were Yasmani, would you have put down another finger?” Counsell said.

But against all odds, that last one led to the moment everyone went home talking about.

Cain, who has made a habit of making such plays throughout his career, said this catch ranked among his best.

“It would be pretty high up there,” he said. “Robbing home runs feels great.”