CHICAGO — Christian Yelich’s easy smile and champagne-soaked T-shirt said it all.
A division title is much more fun than a Triple Crown.
Yelich collected three more hits as the Milwaukee Brewers won their first NL Central title since 2011, beating the Chicago Cubs 3-1 on Monday in a tiebreaker game. Later in the day, Walker Buehler led the Dodgers to their sixth consecutive NL West title with a 5-2 victory over the Rockies.
Milwaukee’s silky-smooth slugger stalled in his bid for the NL’s first Triple Crown in decades, but he starred once again as the Brew Crew captured the biggest prize of the day.
“I know how hard it is to get to this point and I’m proud to be a part of this group,” Yelich said as Milwaukee’s boozy party swirled around him, filling every inch of the cramped visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
Lorenzo Cain hit a go-ahead single in the eighth inning to help Milwaukee to its eighth straight win and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. The Brewers will host the wild-card winner starting Thursday in the best-of-five Division Series.
Chicago stays at Wrigley for Tuesday night’s wild-card game. The Cubs will play the loser of Monday’s second tiebreaker between Colorado and the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West title.
Yelich singled home Milwaukee’s first run and won the NL batting title with a .326 average. He had 110 RBIs, one behind the Cubs’ Javier Baez, and finished with 36 home runs — Colorado’s Nolan Arenado had 37 going into the Rockies’ game at Dodger Stadium. The tiebreakers were game 163 of the regular season and counted in the totals.
Joe Medwick in 1937 was the last NL player to win the Triple Crown. Miguel Cabrera did it for Detroit in 2012.
Milwaukee trailed Chicago by as many as five games in September, but manager Craig Counsell’s club pushed the season to an extra day with a furious finish and then used its deep lineup and bullpen to outlast the playoff-tested Cubs.
Orlando Arcia, batting in the eighth slot, had a career-high four hits, and Josh Hader closed out another dominant relief performance for the Brewers.
Jose Quintana pitched six-hit ball into the sixth inning and Anthony Rizzo homered, but Chicago’s bullpen faltered at a key moment. Daniel Murphy and Javier Baez had the only other hits for the Cubs.
The game was tied at 1 before Milwaukee opened the eighth with three straight hits. Arcia singled on a 0-2 pitch from Justin Wilson (4-5), Domingo Santana had a pinch-hit double and Cain greeted Steve Cishek with a single back up the middle.
After Yelich struck out swinging — a rare occurrence during an extraordinary stretch for the NL MVP favorite — Ryan Braun got the Brewers an insurance run with a run-scoring single to center.
It was more than enough for Milwaukee’s vaunted bullpen. Corey Knebel (4-3) extended his scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings with a perfect seventh, and Hader worked two innings for his 12th save.
Rizzo had one last chance for Chicago, but he flied to right with Baez on second for the final out. When it was over, Hader wrapped his arms around catcher Erik Kratz for a big hug as the rest of the Brewers poured out of the dugout.
A sizable portion of Milwaukee fans in the crowd of 38,450 chanted “Let’s go Brewers! Let’s go Brewers!” — a rarity at Wrigley Field over the past few years.
“We could hear ’em, we could really hear them and we fed off of that,” Yelich said. “We wanted to bring this home for them.”
DODGERS REIGN AGAIN
Buehler tossed one-hit ball into the seventh inning, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy launched two-run homers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies.
The defending NL champion Dodgers became the first major league team to win six straight division crowns since the Yankees captured nine AL East titles in a row from 1998-2006.
Los Angeles now hosts Atlanta in the best-of-five NL Division Series beginning Thursday.
Denied their first division title in franchise history, the Rockies head to Wrigley Field to play the Chicago Cubs in the NL wild-card game on Tuesday night.
Pitching in 90-degree heat, Buehler was oh-so-cool in closing out a regular season that ended with Game 163 after both teams had identical records of 91-71.
The soft-spoken, 24-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, has been so steady of late that manager Dave Roberts had no qualms about giving Buehler the ball for the crucial game that helped decide the Dodgers’ postseason fate.
He settled in quickly, retiring his first six batters in a row, and never did allow a run.