Walkoffs a home-field advantage

Walkoffs a home-field advantage

Twice in the last two weeks my Brew Crew performed the magical act of winning in the bottom of the ninth. In basketball either team can grab the ball and score at the buzzer to win. In football and soccer either team can do the same at the final whistle. In the last seconds of the third period in hockey, any player can slap in a game-winning goal. However, baseball's ninth inning presents a unique scenario where only the home team can orchestrate such a magnificent instant.

My friend Susan and I enjoyed a perfect summer afternoon gabbing and cheering while the Brewers scored in the first and second innings and held the lead against the Pirates until a dreadful sixth. I had assumed Pittsburgh had come to town solely to help us get above .500, but they weren't cooperating, and this matinee had become the rubber game. When the Brewers fell behind 5-4, I began to grumble. After we failed to score in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, I even threatened to go home early.

The Intimidator

In the ninth, with the Brewers down by a run, I spotted Derrick Turnbow lumbering from the bullpen to the mound, and I smiled. At least I'd get to see him work that day. Besides, to bolster any hope of a comeback, we needed him to polish off the side.

Have I said how much I love "Turnbull"? Well, consider it said, and my feelings have nothing to do with how good looking he is. Turnbow is big. Real big. His clothes are big. His face is big and deceptively innocent-looking. His hair is big and curly, like a kid's. I enjoy how his ears protrude from under his big hat. I get a kick out of the way he pauses in between pitches to whip off his hat and wipe his face with four swipes of the back of his monstrous, talented forearms. I am awed by the blurring speed of his pitches and by the solid clomp of his follow-through.

But the part I love best is watching Turnbow mow down three men in a row without changing a muscle on his face.

That day he mowed. The first pitch clocked in at 98 mph, and the crowd roared. We began to enjoy the game again, as one, two, three of the Pirates flailed or just stood flat-footed with their bats on their shoulders and their mouths hanging open while the ball sizzled by. You can check this, but I don't think Turnbow threw more than 11 pitches in the inning. None of those guys would want to face big Derrick again soon.

In the bottom half of the ninth, our wonderful manager chose my favorite, first baseman Lyle Overbay, to pinch hit for Chad Moeller. Overbay, benched because of the left-handed Pittsburgh starter, drew a four-pitch walk, and my hopes bubbled up. The tying run was on base. As soon as Prince Fielder sidled up to pinch hit in the pitcher's slot, everyone who was left in the stands bounded to their feet.

The first pitch whizzed past Fielder for a strike, and I asked Susan if she thought we could win. She answered cautiously. "I've seen them do it before. Haven't you?" And in a moment everything changed as Fielder smacked the next pitch in a glorious arc towards the right field bleachers, and the ball seemed to gather speed like a booster rocket. There was no doubt this one was gone.

What a feeling! What a team! What great fans we were! As Overbay and Fielder joined the circle of celebration, the whole team leaped in triumph. Up in the stands Susan and I were jumping too.

Sunday's Squeeze

I wasn't in the stadium for the following Sunday's one-run game against the Padres, but I kept track of it on television. Ever hopeful when the Padres tied it up, I stayed tuned for the bottom of the ninth and laughed out loud when Brady Clark put down that perfect bunt to score Corey Hart from third and win the game. A squeeze is the cleverest little play -- a winner just as grand as a grand slam. One minute I was ready for defeat. The next my spirits flew up to the sky.

Only in baseball.