WASHINGTON — At 11:24 p.m. Tuesday, less than half an hour after Trent Grisham committed the error that cost the Milwaukee Brewers their season, the man he replaced approached his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park. Christian Yelich, the reigning National League MVP, slapped Grisham on the shoulder with his right hand, leaned in, gave him a hug and whispered words of solace into his ear.
Grisham, the rookie who took over right field for the Brewers after Yelich suffered a season-ending kneecap fracture, nodded silently. As much as he appreciated the gesture, it couldn’t lessen the pain of what had happened.
The Brewers were barreling toward a National League Division Series showdown with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then after ace reliever Josh Hader loaded the bases, Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto ripped a single to right field that took a sideways hop, skipped past Grisham, cleared the bases and propelled the Nationals to a 4-3 victory in the NL wild-card game.
Grisham was crestfallen. A season that began at Double-A and continued with him leading off for the Brewers in his first playoff game ended in one of the cruelest possible fashions, with Grisham wondering what could’ve been, what should’ve been.
“It’s going to sting. It’s going to sting for a long time,” he said. “Essentially gifting the Nationals a divisional berth. It’s going to hurt. And I expect it to hurt when I debrief and go into the offseason.”
The 22-year-old, a first-round pick in 2015, distinguished himself with a combination of power, patience and solid defense since his Aug. 1 debut. Although the game-tying run was likely to score on Soto’s single, the go-ahead run in Anthony Rendon easily came home as Grisham scurried to chase the ball that had gone by him.
“That’s part of playing in these games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “And it’s disappointing, and I’m sure Trent is disappointed. But for all these guys, Trent’s why we’re here. Trent got us here. Big part of getting us here. The inning was an ugly inning. Crazy things happen.”
Grisham faulted himself for his approach on the play. He charged the ball too quickly, he said, and didn’t break down to get into position to field it. When the ball hit the ground, it took a slight leftward hop past the glove of the left-handed Grisham.
“At the end of the game, when getting down to six, five, four outs to go, of course you feel all that pressure,” he said. “It’s exciting. You want to live in those moments and live up to those expectations.
“I don’t think it got to me at all. I just ended up making an error. It’s not my first. It’s not going to be my last. It just happened that way.”
In the clubhouse after the game, teammates streamed to Grisham’s locker to console him and thank him for his work in 2019. From Sept. 6 to Sept. 26, the Brewers won 18 of 20 games, including 13 of 15 without Yelich, to leapfrog the Chicago Cubs and secure the second wild-card slot.
“These baseball seasons are sacred,” Counsell said. “You think that you don’t get many of them, and you don’t get many chances like this. And I’m so proud of the way we battled and the urgency that we played with and how together we became, better than anybody thought we could be.”
On Tuesday, the Brewers weren’t good enough to beat the Nationals, something Grisham will take into the winter as he prepares for his first full season in the major leagues.
“It hurt. It wasn’t ideal. It’s not how you want your first playoff game to go,” he said. “We expected to win. There’s all kinds of thoughts and emotions running through your head. It just kind of stings right now.”