MILWAUKEE -- Casey McGehee's lucky charm is 7-year-old Clayton Wollner of Sussex, Wis., whose shyness led to a bold request from his mother, which led to one of the best days of McGehee's baseball life.
McGehee told Clayton's story after belting three home runs in the Brewers' series-clinching, 10-5 win over the Cardinals on Wednesday at Miller Park. He'd met Clayton on the field before the game, and was trying to draw out some conversation. Clayton was shy, so his mom, Jennifer, and dad, Ben, tried to drive some conversation. Mom blurted out that McGehee should hit a homer for Clayton.
"Honestly, I feel a little bad about it now," Jennifer Wollner said Thursday morning. "I didn't know he hadn't really been hitting this season."
McGehee had not homered since July 6. He had one home run in his previous 65 games.
Then something special happened.
McGehee hit a go-ahead two-run home run off Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson in the first inning. McGehee hit another go-ahead two-run homer off Jackson in the third for his second career multihomer game, and then connected on a solo shot in the seventh for what McGehee believes was the first three-homer game of his life.
He called it "one of those out of body experiences," and before reporters broke away from McGehee's locker on Wednesday afternoon, he urged them to stay for the story about Clayton.
"I want to bring him to Houston with me, and then we're going to go to St. Louis," said McGehee, perhaps joking, perhaps not, about the team's upcoming road trip. "I want to get him a locker -- we have a little space right here. Hopefully, we're going to track Clayton down."
It turns out that Clayton Wollner loves baseball, but was forced to sit on the bench this summer. He was born with a condition called craniosynostosis, which prevents his skull from growing properly. He's had seven surgeries, the most recent on July 13 at Children's Hospital. He will need more surgeries in his life.
It is the same condition that Jorge Posada Jr., the son of the Yankees veteran, has dealt with throughout his young life.
"It's not a life-threatening condition, but it's one you have to keep up on," Jennifer Wollner said. "As he continues to grow, his skull won't grow right, and that means his brain can't grow right."
The Wollners were hoping that someone might simply be able to call Clayton with a message of support, to keep his chin up, and through some family ties with Fox Sports Wisconsin, their request reached the Brewers. An invitation to a ballgame followed, along with a surprise tour of Miller Park and an even more surprising opportunity to stand on the field while the Cardinals took batting practice.
Suddenly, there was McGehee, a Brewer in the flesh. He wanted to meet Clayton because this is a cause dear to his own heart. Casey and Sarah McGehee's first child, a bundle of energy named Mack, was born with cerebral palsy.
McGehee spent 15 minutes talking with the Wollners, and then it was game time. Who knew it would be such a memorable game?
The Wollners had not even made it home to Sussex before McGehee's story about Clayton aired on the radio and the phone calls started coming. Everybody wanted to know: Is this your Clayton?
"We never expected any of this," Jennifer said. "And we're not expecting anything further than this. We've read the articles and joked about [meeting McGehee again], but we've kept the expectations very low. We appreciated our time with him, and were just blown away by our whole day.
"When he hit the first home run we were like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is so fun!' When it got to three, we were kind of speechless." McGehee was on a bit of his roll before he met his new good-luck charm. He entered Wednesday's crucial series finale against the Cardinals batting .321 over his previous 15 games and .360 in the first eight games of the team's long homestand.
With Wednesday's 3-for-4 performance, McGehee went 7-for-14 in the three games against the Cardinals. His batting average is back up to a more palatable .240. He's spent the past two games back in his usual five-hole, the spot from which McGehee led the Brewers last season with 104 RBIs. "I'm starting to feel like my old self again," he said.
That would be extremely good news for the Brewers, who have been more offensively inconsistent than expected this season. The lack of production from the fifth spot is one tangible reason. The team entered Wednesday ranked 28th of 30 big league teams with 40 RBIs from No. 5 hitters, and 29th with a .576 OPS.
"If Casey can do it, it's big for what we do," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's been good for a while now, so today's ballgame was outstanding. Hopefully, we can get that production he gave the club last year and the half-year before."
McGehee has sensed turning points before, only to fall back into his slump. But he has slowly showed signs of graduating from ground balls pounded toward shortstop to fly balls to center field to line drives toward right, where McGehee finds most of his power.
He had been making louder outs before his current streak of success, and managed to say, "the heck with it," when even the quality at-bats led to outs.
Now some of those well-struck baseballs are starting to fall. On Wednesday, three of them fell over the fence.
"I've had a couple of times where I've had a 'look yourself in the mirror' moment," McGehee said. "I came to the realization that if, God forbid, I've got to go out, I'm going to go out the way I know how. I don't feel like it's my time to go.
"That's the only way I know how to do things -- keep going after it, keep fighting it. It's how I got here, and how I plan on staying here."