MILWAUKEE — An angry Brandon Woodruff was an effective Brandon Woodruff in the Brewers’ victorious home opener on Thursday afternoon.
Woodruff scattered three hits and didn’t allow a run over five effective innings — six, if you give him credit for the extra outs during a long third inning that brought Woodruff’s emotions bubbling to the surface in the Brewers’ 5-1 win over the Cardinals at a sold-out American Family Field.
The usually mild-mannered right-hander let home-plate umpire Lance Barrett hear it after Woodruff twice didn’t get a called strike three in a big spot against Cardinals slugger Paul Goldschmidt. As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, Goldschmidt then appeared to ground out to third base, only to be sent to first on a catcher’s interference call. With that nine-pitch battle finally in the books, Woodruff retired Cards slugger Tyler O’Neill to strand the bases loaded in the Cardinals’ only major threat of the afternoon.
That long inning — Woodruff threw 26 pitches during the third, including seven after the first of what he perceived to be two missed strikes that would have ended the threat — helped push Woodruff’s pitch count to 89 by the end of the fifth. So relievers Trevor Gott and Jandel Gustave finished what Woodruff started on a day the bullpen was depleted, and a balanced offensive attack led by catcher Omar Narváez’s two hits and two RBIs pushed the Brewers over .500 for the first time this season at 4-3.
“Even last year, I’ve had those times where I’ve had that happen to me, and I get pretty fired up about it because it matters, right?” Woodruff said. “It’s second and third, their best hitter up, middle of the lineup, you’ve got the meat of the order coming up, and I just felt like two pitches — I went back and watched them — were pretty good.
“I think last year I probably would have let that get to me a little bit and maybe not have executed as well. But in that moment I kept telling myself, ‘Take a breath, clear it out, reset and worry about the next pitch.’”
There have been times when Woodruff’s emotions got the best of him. Take Game 2 of the 2020 National League Wild Card Series against the Dodgers, when he was knocked out of the game in a frustrating fifth inning and then ejected on his way off the field.
A year and a half later, Woodruff avoided letting his emotions unravel to the point that his pitching did the same.
“That’s where experience comes in, learning from those situations and continuing to attack and not let the emotion of the moment take over,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Said Woodruff: “I got it out. Somebody told me to shut up, and that’s when I just shut up. They said, ‘Hey, Woody, chill.’ I said my two cents. I told him, ‘Hey, that’s two pitches, man.’ This matters. Like Omar said, what if he gets a hit there?”
“I was just trying to get him through the inning,” Narváez said. “If we both get caught up in that moment, we probably give those runs away and would be talking about another result.”
It wasn’t the only example of Woodruff keeping his cool in the Brewers’ first home opener with a full stadium in three years. In the second inning, veteran Albert Pujols timed Woodruff’s pre-pitch routine and broke from second base in an attempt to steal third. Woodruff calmly stepped off the rubber and foiled the attempt by several steps.
“That’s what the Cardinals are good at, they’re good at trying to take advantage of anything you give them,” Woodruff said.
“He tried to catch us napping a little bit and catch Woody in a little bit of a rhythm,” Counsell said. “I thought it was another [example] of how Woody just didn’t panic right there.”
For all the consternation about Corbin Burnes and Woodruff after shaky season debuts, the follow-ups were sharp. That duo combined to allow 10 runs on 10 hits and six walks with six strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings against the Cubs during the opening series, then no runs on six hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts in 12 innings of their second outings — Burnes in Baltimore on Wednesday night and Woodruff against the Cardinals in the Brewers’ 53rd home opener since moving to Milwaukee.
“We’re getting a little spoiled by these guys,” Counsell said. “They are great. They are going to have hiccups. Their seasons are going to be different. They’re still going to be great, but they’re going to be different. But they’re talented, they work hard, they’re conscientious and they’re going to have success over the long term.
“There’s going to be blips in the season, but I think you see them come back from them, it shows who they are.”