The Brewers’ Five Most Memorable Games
October 3, 1982: A Wallbangin’ Finish
Leading the American League’s Eastern Division by three games and heading into second-place Baltimore for a four-game series to finish the regular season, the Brewers sensed a relatively easy path to their first-ever divisional title—but the Orioles kept the champagne on ice for three days, walloping the Brewers in the first three games by scores of 8-3, 7-1 and 11-3. Adding extra pressure, there was the intangible that the winner-take-all finale would be the last regular season game for long-time Orioles skipper Earl Weaver, so the emotion was in order to try and send him out a winner—and into the postseason.
The Brewers took the early advantage, peppering a run in each of the first three innings off Baltimore ace Jim Palmer (who entered the game with a 15-4 record) with eventual AL MVP Robin Yount supplying most of the punch with a pair of solo home runs. After clubbing a leadoff triple in the eighth, Yount would score to up the lead to 5-1; undeterred, the Orioles came back with a single run off Brewers starter Don Sutton, but their bid to further close the gap fell short when Joe Nolan’s drive down the left-field line was hauled in on a diving catch by Ben Ogilvie. Moments later, the Brewers team forever known as Harvey’s Wallbangers (after an offense that came alive with the midseason entry of new manager Harvey Kuenn), truly began banging away—scoring five times to turn the game into a 10-2 rout, giving Milwaukee its first divisional title to date.
October 10, 1982: The Flag is Ours
After dropping the first two games in a best-of-five ALCS matchup against the California Angels, the Brewers had the unenviable task of winning three straight games—even if they were all at County Stadium—to win their first AL pennant. They fought back to win the first two of those games to even the series, setting up, as it was a week earlier against Baltimore, a winner-take-all match against the Angels.
AL Cy Young award winner Pete Vuckovich got the call for the Brewers against Bruce Kison; neither pitcher, both starting on three day’s rest, was especially sharp. The Angels got to Vuckovich with three runs in the first four innings, while Kison was barely able to keep the lead—giving up a solo shot to Oglivie in the fourth to draw the Brewers back to within a run at 3-2. That score remained the same headed into the bottom of the seventh, but the Brewers began to stir the pot, loading the bases with two outs for the dangerous Cecil Cooper; Angel manager Gene Mauch had a left-hander ready to face the left-handed hitting Cooper (who hit 50 points lighter against southpaws as opposed to righties), but stuck with righty Luis Sanchez. Cooper made Mauch pay for his stand pat strategy, singling home two runs and giving Milwaukee a 4-3 lead. Without ace closer Rollie Fingers (injured since the start of September), the Brewers had to cross their fingers and hope a weakened bullpen could hold the one-run lead over the final two innings against a potent Angel offense. It did, barely—retiring future Hall of Famer Rod Carew for the final out with a runner on second to wrap up the three-game comeback and give Milwaukee its lone taste of AL-winning brew.
October 3, 1981: All Fingers and No Thumbs
In their 12th year of existence at Milwaukee, the Brewers finally earned a trip into October in raucous fashion, coming late from behind to tip the Detroit Tigers before 28,000 enthusiastic County Stadium fans and win the “second half” of the AL East in baseball’s strike-forced, split-season format to earn a divisional series date with the New York Yankees.
The game featured both team’s aces: The Brewers’ Vuckovich against the Tigers’ Jack Morris, both tied for the AL lead with 14 wins apiece. They lived up to the billing, trading five innings of shutout pitching. In the sixth, Detroit broke the ice; Kirk Gibson punched out a leadoff single and later scored when Milwaukee first baseman Cecil Cooper muffed a Richie Hebner grounder.
The Brewers’ offense finally came to life in the eighth, even if the inning only consisted of two walks, two bunt hits and a sacrifice fly. The bags were loaded with no one out, and Ted Simmons took advantage by grounding in Paul Molitor on the next play; two batters later, Gorman Thomas’ fly out brought home Robin Yount to give Milwaukee the 2-1 edge. Into the top of the ninth, Brewers closer Rollie Fingers—having a sensational campaign that would earn him AL Cy Young and MVP honors—locked down the Tigers in order, striking out the final two batters to send the Brewers streaking out onto the field to celebrate the clinching of their first postseason appearance.
September 28, 2008: CC Ridin’ to October
A year after recording their first winning record in 15 years, the Brewers and their fans were starved for success of a higher order: A playoff appearance, one they hadn’t enjoyed for 26 years. When they began the 2008 season in good shape but still were in need of a solid boost, the Brewers went for broke and acquired burly ace pitcher CC Sabathia, who the team knew was likely to hang in Milwaukee only for the remainder of the season before leaving for the free-agent riches of a big-time spender (not surprisingly, that team would be the Yankees). But despite Sabathia’s terrific second-half showing, the Brewers tripped up late, losing 11 of 14 in early September before the team irrationally fired manager Ned Yost for former Brewers player Dale Sveum.
The firing did serve as a wake-up call to the players, who lost out on the chance for the NL Central title but were still in fighting shape to snag the wild card spot. On the final day of the regular season at Miller Park, the Brewers hosted the Chicago Cubs tied for that final playoff position with the New York Mets, who’d be playing at home against Florida that same day.
Fortunately for the Brewers, Sabathia was available to start—pitching for the third straight time on three days’ rest. Despite showing signs of exhaust in those previous outings, Sabathia showed that he plenty of gas left in the tank, allowing only an unearned run in the second; but the Cubs, using a pitcher-by-committee routine, kept Milwaukee scoreless through six innings as four Chicago hurlers ganged to retire 18 straight batters at one point. Finally, in the seventh, the Brewers broke through; Ray Durham’s leadoff double was followed by three walks, the last to Craig Counsell to force Durham in as the tying run. An inning later, Milwaukee had a runner on first with two outs when, suddenly, Ryan Braun blasted the Brewers to a 3-1 lead with his 37th home run. Sabathia stayed on for the ninth to wrap it up, ending it when Derrek Lee hit into the Cubs’ third double play of the game to give Sabathia his seventh complete game with the Brewers—a figure good enough to lead the NL despite the fact he only played half the year there.
Even with victory, the tension was not done. The Brewers and the bulk of the sellout crowd at Miller Park stayed to watch, on the giant ballpark board, the end of the Marlins-Mets game, won by Florida 4-2 to ensure Milwaukee’s long-overdue return to the postseason.
August 26, 1987: History Left on Deck
When Paul Molitor’s hitting streak reached 20 games in 1987, the beat reporters took note. When it reached 30, baseball fans took note. When it got to 39 games—the fifth longest streak since 1900—the whole nation was tuned in. Even Joe DiMaggio began to wonder if his seemingly unapproachable record of 56 straight games was in jeopardy.
Molitor’s long run had begun on July 16—the day he came off the disabled list for the umpteenth time, switching to the designated hitter spot after having played the bulk of the year at third base. Allowed to fully concentrate on hitting via the DH role, Molitor was hitting .414 during the streak, raising his season average to .370. Hoping to extend the run to 40 games, Molitor was facing a Cleveland Indians team for which he was hitting .404 against on the year.
Alas for Molitor, the game started and continued as an outright pitching duel between the game’s two starting hurlers: Cleveland’s John Farrell and the Brewers’ Ted Higuera. Like the rest of the hitters, Molitor had no luck: He struck out in the first inning, hit into a double play in the third, grounded out in the sixth and finally reached base in the eighth—but on an error when first baseman Pat Tabler bobbled a throw from the infield (Molitor was not credited with a hit). Molitor got a reprieve when the 0-0 game went into extra innings; in the top of the 10th, Higuera—en route to a Brewers record 33.1 consecutive scoreless innings—retired the side in order. In the bottom of the inning, the Brewers began a rally when a hit batsman and intentional walk put runners on first and second. Molitor reached the on-deck circle with a chance to extend the streak and maybe even win the game—if he could get the chance to hit. But Rick Manning, the guy hitting in front of him, ruined it for him. Manning’s single brought home the game-winning run—ending the game and, in effect, Molitor’s streak. Seldom has a crowd booed a walk-off hit by the home team, but that’s what more than a few among the 11,246 at County Stadium did as they jeered Manning for denying Monitor a shot at history.
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