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Brewers Bring It Home In Game 3

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Dave Bush throws during first inning baseball action in Game 3 of the National League division series against the Philadelphia Phillies Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Ben Smidt, Pool)
Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Dave Bush throws during first inning baseball action in Game 3 of the National League division series against the Philadelphia Phillies Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Ben Smidt, Pool) (Ben Smidt - AP)

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By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 5, 2008

MILWAUKEE, Oct. 4 -- Goodbyes stink, and Milwaukee takes them hard. October 17, 1982, was a goodbye. Goodbye, playoff baseball -- see you in 26 years. For all that time, Milwaukee had nothing. So just Milwaukee's luck: Here came this team, imperfectly configured but perfect fighters, just like the '82 bunch, pushing into the playoffs on the regular season's last day, releasing a generation of pressure -- a civic hallelujah -- and then they got to Miller Park for a playoff game and everybody already feared another goodbye.

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Let the record show, then, that Milwaukee's 2008 baseball team did its city one final favor. It didn't let hello and goodbye come on the same day. By defeating Philadelphia, 4-1, on Saturday in the first postseason game here since 1982, the Brewers gave 43,992 the celebration without the solemnity. Dave Bush pitched 5 1/3 innings, limiting the Phillies to one run, and Milwaukee took advantage of Jamie Moyer's uncharacteristic wildness by converting two early walks into two first-inning runs. When closer Salomón Torres ended the ninth by tossing a comebacker to first, a Houdini escape from a no-outs, bases-loaded trap, he gave a full-throttle fist pump. Game 4 -- bring it on.

The Brewers gave this day its standalone glory. The crowd was so loud, Jimmy Rollins joked that he needed earplugs. Bush called it "something I'll always remember." Commissioner Bud Selig, a former Milwaukee team president, called the occasion "very emotional." Everything else can wait. Maybe the offseason, as many anticipate, will force CC Sabathia's free agent departure, trades of Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy, a diminished payroll, a recession on expectations, a fortune handed over to a superb but untested assortment of prospects. But for now, Milwaukee has some hope.

Those here know that, because the '82 team rallied from two down to win the American League pennant.

"I didn't know they came back from a 2-0 deficit," Milwaukee third baseman Bill Hall said. "I did know they went to the World Series and obviously it didn't turn out the way they wanted to against the Cardinals. But we feel we've got the same heart as those guys. Somebody asked me yesterday how do we resemble the '82 team. I said, we hit the ball out of the ballpark like they did. We hustle, we play hard. And in 2025 we'll have somebody wearing the '08 Brewers' jersey on retro days."

The timeline of modern (e.g., moribund) Milwaukee baseball history begins on Oct. 17, 1982, the last day the Brewers played great, important baseball. There they were, the league's most powerful team, a full lineup of mustachioed lumberjacks, leaving the field at County Stadium that night with a 3-2 World Series lead, one win from a parade. Selig, the team president at the time, watched the game from his private box, puffing a cigar. Thousands stayed on long after the game to salute them, forming a throng around the Milwaukee dugout.

Then, the best Brewers' team of all time packed its bags for St. Louis, lost the next two, and fell into a darkness. A darkness so long, its shadows stretched 25 years, 11 months and 17 days. It spread across 14 consecutive seasons without a plus-.500 finish, and year after year, the postseason came and the ballpark -- County Stadium, or its replacement, Miller Park -- was empty. Only the ghosts of that '82 team performed in October.

Then, on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., the gates to Miller Park opened for a playoff game. Fans, many wearing the pinstriped "Molitor" and "Yount" jerseys -- 1982 1982 1982 -- flooded in, took photographs, tried to make one day last as long as 26 years. When the Brewers departed the field after batting practice, they got a standing ovation. Some players in recent weeks had grown tired of the '82 comparisons, but they also knew about their playoff trip: "It was something [fans] have been dying for obviously for 26 years," Manager Dale Sveum said.

Because this was history, not just a game, the "Let's Go Brewers" chant started 13 minutes before the first pitch. When Bush finally threw a first-pitch ball to Rollins, the Philadelphia leadoff man, cameras flashed. Milwaukee, which narrowly missed the playoffs last year and scrambled to sneak in this year, had mortgaged so much just for this moment. All year, the stakes grew. The Brewers dealt a top prospect for Sabathia, a free agent-to-be; they captivated the region, selling out 44 games; they increased their payroll to $90 million; and they fired manager Ned Yost with less than two weeks left in the season, needing to spark an 11th-hour surge. You make moves like that only when you're unwilling to let a 26-year drought turn 27.

"We spent a lot of money this year, pushed our budget into the red," Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio said.

The sacrifice paid off all at once. "Well, it's great to walk around -- you see the bunting on the stadium," Attanasio said. "It was important for me to bring a culture of winning here, break the way things were. I think by making the playoffs we did it."


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