MILWAUKEE — Rowdy Tellez said he blacked out at the instant of the biggest moment of his career, but not so long that he couldn’t appreciate what he had done.
Tellez, the burly first baseman the Milwaukee Brewers acquired during the season, unloaded on a seventh-inning fastball from Charlie Morton for a two-run homer, breaking up a scoreless tie and propelling Milwaukee to a 2-1 win over Atlanta in Game 1 of their NLDS series.
“They always talk about blacking out or being unconscious,” Tellez said. “That’s what it was. I had that moment. As soon as it left the bat, I knew.”
Morton had dominated Milwaukee to that point. Through six innings, he limited the Brewers to two hits and struck out nine, while throwing just 77 pitches, and no Brewer had even reached second base.
But as so often happens in the playoffs, one crucial and abrupt change in momentum changed everything.
First, Morton had a rare lapse of command, as a 1-2 fastball up and in to Avisail Garcia got away from him and hit the Milwaukee right fielder on the forearm. However, he recovered and got ahead on the count 1-2 to Tellez, getting strike two on a fastball that a late swing sent slicing up the left field line and into foul territory.
Tellez, thinking perhaps his bat had cracked on the foul ball, called time to get a new piece of wood. The short delay only intensified the anticipation building in the ballpark.
“I don’t know if I broke that bat,” Tellez said. “I just saw something fly off it. I was, like, I need all the help I can get right now.”
As Tellez prepared his new bat for action, he was perhaps getting help he couldn’t see: The television broadcast captured ebullient Milwaukee shortstop Willy Adames on the top step of the dugout, stroking and speaking to his own bat, then kissing it, presumably for good luck.
A moment later, Tellez crushed the Morton pitch 411 feet, well over the home run line on the right-center field fence, as the yellow-towel-waving throng at American Family Field sent the closed-roofballpark shuddering with jubilation.
Tellez, after making contact, took a few steps toward first base with the bat still in his left hand, then tossed it toward the dancing Milwaukee dugout before circling the bases as the stadium lights were flashed on and off during his trot.
“It was cool,” Tellez said. “It’s crazy. Getting a standing ovation, hearing a whole, full stadium chant your name, that’s a special feeling.”
Because of the sterling work to that point by Morton and his counterpart, Milwaukee ace Corbin Burnes, the entire game took on the feel of a contest where one big blow was going to be the difference.
Morton ended up going six-plus innings, allowing three hits and the two runs. Burnes matched him pitch for pitch, going six scoreless frames, allowing two hits and three walks, while striking out six.
“It was exactly what I thought, going in, that this game would be,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Somebody got a big hit. And a lot times, most of the big hits in the postseason, they’re homers. They hit one, and we didn’t. But it was a good ballgame.”
Actually, the Braves did hit a homer, as pinch-hitter Joc Pederson hit an opposite field solo shot in the eighth off Milwaukee reliever Adrian Houser, giving Pederson at least one homer in each of the past six postseasons.
But you get Snitker’s point: Scoring in this series is going to be at a premium, which means tense ballgames, where one mistake can cost you, but also means that heroes can emerge by coming through at just the right moment.
Friday was Tellez’s day. And it was fitting for a Milwaukee team that got so many boosts from players acquired during the season, from Tellez to Adames to Eduardo Escobar, who got the start at third base for the Brewers in Game 1.
Tellez has emerged as a fan favorite since Milwaukee acquired him from Toronto in July, hitting .272 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 56 games and helping shore up what had been a significant positional weakness at first base for the Brewers early in the season.
Tellez also was at the center of the biggest defensive play in the game. In the first inning, after Burnes walked the first two Braves batters — the first time he has done that in his big league career — and allowed Jorge Soler to reach third base on an errant pitch ruled a passed ball, Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies chopped a pitch to Tellez at the first base bag.
Tellez touched the base and wheeled to throw home, where Soler was headed after taking off at the crack of the bat. Tellez’s throw wasn’t perfect, but Milwaukee catcher Omar Narvaez corralled it and made a quick tag to get Soler on the 3-2 double play.
Again, in a low-scoring, tight game like this one, the importance of such fulcrum plays is magnified.
“Postseason is all about momentum,” Burnes said. “Rowdy making that play there obviously gave us the momentum, but it [also] stopped their momentum.”
So as the Braves dropped the first game of a postseason series for the 10th time in their past 11 tries, the momentum is on the side of the favored Brewers. But if Game 1 is any indication, there will be more chances for other players like Tellez to enjoy the hero’s journey, for one game at least. Or maybe Tellez can relive that dream again.
“That’s what you hope for,” Tellez said. “Most of the time, when you practice, [you imagine] it’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded. It’s a good feeling right there.
“But it couldn’t have happened without the way we pitched tonight. That was the key to the game. Good defensive plays, pitching staff. Everybody played well, everybody played hard. It’s playoff baseball.”