MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Eager to pounce, Gomez sparks Brewers

Milwaukee slugger's first-pitch propensity helps take down Kershaw

Eager to pounce, Gomez sparks Brewers

LOS ANGELES -- Carlos Gomez woke up smiling Saturday morning after a night of sound sleep, as if anticipating what was to come hours later: a 3-2 victory by his National League Central-leading Brewers at the expense of the NL West-leading Dodgers and the great Clayton Kershaw.

"I slept good because I knew I was going to be facing probably the best pitcher in baseball," Gomez, Milwaukee's talented and colorful center fielder, said. "I like the challenge. It's the excitement you get from facing a guy like Kershaw.

"What's so great about it is he knows I'm a first-pitch hitter, one of the best hitters early in the count, and he comes right after you, the best in the game. It's great. It's like, let's see what happens."

What happened Saturday night could not have been expected by the seemingly invincible Kershaw, his Dodgers or their fans.

After Kershaw had retired the first nine men he faced, fueling all those familiar possibilities of something extraordinary about to happen, Gomez jumped on the lefty's first delivery of the fourth inning and lashed it to left field for a double.

Two batters later, with part of the crowd serenading him with an unkind chant relating to his suspension last season, Ryan Braun sent a 3-1 fastball rocketing over the wall in right-center for a 2-0 lead.

The Dodgers had cut the deficit in half with a fourth-inning run off Yovani Gallardo manufactured by Carl Crawford's bat (single) and legs (stolen base) when up stepped Gomez leading off the sixth.

Kershaw left an offspeed pitch in a location Gomez obviously liked, and he was all over it, launching it deep in the home bullpen in left to give a two-run cushion back to Gallardo. The ace worked eight strong innings, leaving it to Francisco Rodriguez to yield a booming home run to Matt Kemp before closing it out for his NL-best 38th save.

The lesson of the night was pitchers beware. Gomez is batting .429 and slugging .786 with eight homers and 20 RBIs on 98 first pitches put in play this season. Yes, the man from the Dominican Republic has earned the right to celebrate.

Gomez's unbridled exuberance touring the bases might not have been applauded by the Dodgers or their fans, but they were loving it back home in Wisconsin. Carlos was a wild horse long before legendary Dodgers play-by-play poet Vin Scully began making the reference with respect to Yasiel Puig.

Kershaw fell to 14-3 with his first loss since May 28, ending an amazing streak of 13 consecutive wins by the Dodgers in his starts. His ERA is an MLB-best 1.86 -- he has led the Majors the past three seasons -- and his 11 strikeouts with no walks give him an otherworldly ratio of 174 K's to 19 free passes.

This obviously is not the way Kershaw is accustomed to being treated during this magical season he is putting together. But these are the kinds of things Gomez does now that he has shown everyone he's every bit as good at 28 as he thought he was all along: an All-Star who can do everything.

"I understand my strengths and weaknesses," Gomez said. "I swing at the first pitch if I like it. Why wait? I might not get another pitch that good if I let it go by."

In his first at-bat, Gomez looked at two balls before fouling one off and fouling out. His quick strikes were coming later.

After the double and homer, his 19th, Gomez went after a third straight first pitch by Kershaw in the eighth and grounded out. The damage had been done.

Swinging at 49.5 percent of first pitches last season, more than anybody in the game, Gomez was a .403 hitter. Eight of his 24 homers came on first pitches, and he slugged .738. He has taken those numbers and run with them to even higher plateaus.

"If I swung at the first pitch every time and hit .300, why not?" Gomez said. "If I hit .220, it's something else. If they put it right there, I'm going to be aggressive.

"With two strikes, I hit .170. Why would I put myself in situations where the pitcher controls me? Whatever I do, it's for the good of the team."

If Gomez is the Brewers' answer to Puig, he takes that as a compliment, thank you.

"He's good," Gomez said. "He's exciting. He's still learning and he's hitting .315. If he keeps learning, he'll be hitting .330, .340 with 30-plus home runs and 30 bags [steals].

"I've talked to him. He's a dawg. He loves to play with an attitude and he's not afraid. He likes to win, that's one thing I know about him. He's had a lot of adjustments to make, coming from where he did [in Cuba] to this place with all the attention and money. I think it's impressive what he's doing."

It is equally impressive what "Go-Go" Gomez, the driving force behind this remarkable Brewers season, is doing.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.