CINCINNATI – With the game on the line and Cincinnati’s Yasiel Puig fouling off fastball after fastball, Freddy Peralta and Manny Piña decided it was time for a meeting on the mound.
Peralta, who throws an overwhelming majority of fastballs, wanted to come back with another fastball away.
Piña, the Milwaukee Brewers’ veteran backup catcher, didn’t like the swings Puig was getting on fastballs on the outer half of the plate and wanted his pitcher to come up and in with a high heater.
Unable to agree, the battery mates compromised on a curveball, which Peralta delivered perfectly in the dirt in front of the plate, with the off-balance Puig waving futilely at it for strike three. It was the eighth pitch of the at-bat and the first that wasn’t a fastball.
Thus ended the biggest at-bat of the day for Peralta, who pitched eight brilliant innings as the Brewers held on for a 1-0 victory Wednesday afternoon and sweep of the three-game series at Great American Ball Park. Alex Wilson finished off the Reds in a tense ninth to give the Brewers their fifth one-run victory and a 6-1 record.
“That was the at-bat of the game,” Piña said. “Puig came off the bench (as a pinch-hitter) and he was swinging. We attacked him with the fastball and he was missing just a little bit. I told Freddy I wanted a fastball, up and in. I didn’t want him to get extension with his arms.
BOX SCORE: Brewers 1, Reds 0
“He didn’t want that. He wanted to go down and away. So, I said, ‘OK, give me a good curveball in the dirt.’ That’s what he did. I didn’t want it for a strike. We were looking for a bad swing. If it’s a ball, it’s 3-2 and we can fight.”
Peralta, 22, is known as a fastball, flyball pitcher, and he certainly lived up to that reputation in blanking the Reds on two singles over eight innings. Of the 100 pitches he threw (72 strikes), 84 were fastballs. And of the 24 outs he recorded, none were on the ground, which he had not realized until told.
Puig was the 11th strikeout victim by Peralta, who rebounded from a shaky first start against the Cardinals. In that game, he threw 39 pitches in the first inning, surrendering three runs. This time, he retired the side in the first on nine pitches and was off to the races.
After allowing a leadoff single to Eugenio Suárez in the second inning, Peralta retired 20 hitters in a row before Curt Casali singled with two down in the eighth, leading to the duel with Puig.
“It’s teaching myself that after I have a bad outing like last time, I can come back and make improvements, and have a good outing,” Peralta said through translator Carlos Brizuela. “Even though things didn’t go well last time, I kept working to do better.
“It’s about attacking and going after hitters. I faced them last year and I knew they were aggressive. I knew if I threw strikes, I could get them out. It was a very competitive game. (Castillo) was throwing all of his pitches for strikes. It made for a good competition.”
Reds starter Luis Castillo, whose changeup has bedeviled the Brewers many times in the past, did so again and would have matched Peralta’s outing if not for what had to be the dumbest balk of his career. After Jesús Aguilar reached base on a one-out walk in the second inning, Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto played behind the runner, with the Reds well aware Aguilar never had attempted a steal in the majors.
For whatever reason, Castillo turned to throw to first base and had to hold the ball when he saw Votto wasn’t holding the runner. The balk moved Aguilar to second, and he scored the game’s only run on a two-out single up the middle by Piña.
“You’ve got to be aware,” Aguilar said. “You pay the price. I’m not going nowhere, man, but thank you.”
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With Josh Hader unavailable after closing the first two games of the series, Alex Wilson got the call in the ninth. Signed after not making Cleveland’s staff in spring training, Wilson has not allowed a run in three outings but had to pitch out of a first-and-third, two-out jam in the ninth by getting Suárez to bounce into a force at second.
Missing Corey Knebel for the whole season and Jeremy Jeffress for the present, the bullpen has performed well enough to seal five one-run victories and get the team off to a great start.
“It didn’t surprise me but there was no conversation about (pitching the ninth) before the game,” Wilson said. “Everybody has stepped up. It’s next man up, it always is. I got thrown into this thing out of nowhere and probably surprised a few guys.
“I feel like the entire bullpen has gelled really well. I basically went from no job to a save in two weeks. I have a save, a win and a hold all in one week with a new team. It was basically me begging and pleading to find a job. I’m just taking it as it comes. I’m happy to contribute any way I can.”
And so the Brewers completed their first week of the season, earning a day off Thursday after yet another nail-biting victory.
“It’s unique,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ve played seven games, and five one-run games. I hope that (high number of close games) doesn’t continue. But we came out on top, which means we’re making plays and guys are making pitches.
“We’ve won games with a lot of guys doing good things, and doing good things late in the game.”