There's always that moment when a young player puts his stamp on a game and you know that he'll be a fine professional baseball player. We can all remember the first time we saw Prince Fielder hit a moon shot at Miller Park and the first time we saw Ryan Braun's sweet swing at the plate in a Brewers uniform. Chances are you probably turned to your friends and said something along these lines: "Ya, that guy is going to be something special."
Last night was just that night for new first baseman Mat Gamel. It was the first game that will really stick out in your head from this season when looking back and Gamel was a huge part of the memories we'll have. All of this from a guy most were questioning this offseason.
Topic No. 1 on most Brewers fans offseaon chat lists? Replacing Prince Fielder. Most thought that asking Mat Gamel to be that guy all alone was just asking a bit too much and while that may still very well be the case, last night's performance sure shattered some of the less than stellar expectations some held of Gamel based on spot duty performances in his late season call-up's to the Brewers.
The Brewers and Dodgers played a tight game and Mat Gamel played a huge role in the Brewers narrow 5-4 victory. He hit his first home run of his season last night in the 2nd inning to open up the scoring and he'd figure into this game all the way to the bitter end. He also hit a single in the 7th inning and eventually scored on a suicide squeeze that put the Brewers on top 3-2 after the Dodgers had tied up the game in the top half of the 7th.
LA responded with 2 runs in the top of the 8th and blanked the Brewers in the bottom half to put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the Brewers bats in the bottom of the ninth, down 4-3. Corey Hart hit a single, was replaced by the speedy Carlos Gomez and then Mat Gamel stayed patient at the plate and earned a walk to put the winning run on base.
That's when "the moment" happened. Up stepped pinch-hitting extraordinaire George Kottaras. With two outs and two strikes against him Kottaras ripped a line drive double to left field. Gomez was no question to score, but Gamel was another story having to come from first base. He executed a perfect slide and was safe, scoring the game winning run.
Now this in and of itself doesn't mean he's "arrived" necessarily, but what makes me believe we just witnessed that moment was how he executed what needed to be a perfect slide. If he's out the game goes to extra innings and who knows what happens from there. Instead he adjusts himself as he's hustling around the bases, finds the exact right point of home plate and evades a tag that would've gotten him if he were sliding to any other part of home plate but the back point. It was a picture perfect moment of execution that shows this guy has the "it" factor.
This year he's been patient, quite, and let his play do the talking all season so far and last night talked the loudest. Right now he actually just may be the best all-around player this team has and before you start going crazy on me, the stats back me up on this one!
Mat Game is currently hitting .282 which only behind Kottaras, Gomez, Lucroy, and Braun amongst those with mor than 10 at bats. He's 1st on the team in runs scored (9) and in stolen bases (3). He's 2nd on the team in total hits with 11 and he already has a triple this season to go along with his first home run of the year yesterday. You can't argue with that kind of production. His only downfall is that he's also high on the K's list, having 8 of them already on the year. That's something he should impove with over time though.
The one area of the game that I believe everyone has underestimated (myself included) is his base running ability, which his 3 stolen bases and last nights game winning trip from first to home showcased. It's a bonus that has helped the Brewers out in keeping innings alive by beating out double play attempts and getting into scoring position.
Gamel may never be equal to Prince Fielder in terms of his home run hitting prowess, but few are. What Gamel showed last night is that he can be just as valuable by getting himself on base and showing off the speed that Prince clearly lacked. It's very possible that someday we'll be looking back at last night's game and remembering it as "that moment" when we saw Mat Gamel arrive as a bonafide Major Leaguer and possibly a star in the making. Now if we could just get Ramirez to start hitting, huh?