It’s been 10 years since the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers snapped a 26-year streak of missing the playoffs. It was a season characterized by a thrilling final week and the midseason acquisition of pitcher CC Sabathia. Each month, we’ve looked back at a segment of that season, which concluded with the Brewers in possession of the National League wild-card berth.
As we head toward the finish of what the Brewers hope is another playoff campaign, here’s a look back at the roller-coaster ride of September 2008:
2008 September record: 10-16
Year to date record: 90-72
Standings: 7½ games back of first-place Chicago Cubs and winner of the wild card (1 game ahead of Mets)
Player of the month
Prince Fielder. For the first time in our 2008 series, Fielder is the player of the month, which might come as a surprise. But even when the team was floundering in early September, Fielder was on fire, with a .998 OPS, six home runs and 21 RBI. His biggest blast came Sept. 23, when his walk-off homer in the ninth lifted the Brewers to a 7-5 win and began a monster three-game sweep of the Pirates that featured two walk-off homers. Special mention to Seth McClung, who worked 16 quality innings (1-1, 1.10 ERA) in September, including a four-inning relief appearance on the final Friday of the season against the Cubs, when the Brewers prevailed, 5-1, and McClung allowed just one hit.
Game of the month
Sept. 28 vs. Cubs. You don’t need to be told about this one, do you? In one of the most thrilling moments in Brewers history, CC Sabathia threw a complete game, Ryan Braun delivered a two-run homer in the eighth that will live forever, and the Brewers defeated the Cubs in the final game of the season, 3-1, to guarantee at least a share of the wild-card spot.
When New York fell to the Marlins just moments after the game went final, it was official – the Brewers were going back to the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Many fans at Miller Park stayed until the Mets game was a done deal.
Big story lines
Spiral downward leads to Yost’s departure. The Brewers closed August with three straight wins – and then a nightmare stretch of baseball began in September. The Brewers lost four straight to open the month and ultimately lost 15 of 19, including a four-game sweep at the hands of Philadelphia, punctuated by a doubleheader sweep Sept. 14. The team’s healthy playoff status disappeared. Manager Ned Yost was fired Sept. 15 – two weeks before season’s end and one day after the series in Philly – and replaced with third-base coach and former Brewer Dale Sveum. Oh yeah, in that 4-15 stretch, THREE of the wins were nail-biters – a 3-2 win in 11, a 1-0 win the next day (with Ben Sheets working a complete game and stranding the tying run at third base in the ninth) and a 4-3 win in which Milwaukee singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth.
“I really hope this works and they get the jump-start they’re looking for,” Yost said. “They were right. The team had no life the last couple of days. I don’t know why. (The players) need to understand the gravity of the situation.”
The chase from 2½ back. Sabathia incurred his second loss of the season in a setback against the Cincinnati Reds on Sept. 20. That put the Brewers 2½ games behind the Mets with eight games to go. But Milwaukee immediately got one game back with a win at Cincinnati on Sept. 21 (including a big performance by September acquisition Todd Coffey), then won six of the next seven to pass the struggling Mets. That included two walk-off homers against Pittsburgh, one by Fielder and one by Braun (a memorable grand slam).
Gallardo, Braun star in thriller vs. Pirates. Braun’s home run in the final game of the season Sept. 28 was actually an encore to his walk-off grand slam against the Pirates in the 10th inning Sept. 25. That game-winner came against reliever Jesse Chavez – who was on the hill 10 years later pitching for the Cubs when Christian Yelich hit the game-winning fielder’s choice for the Brewers on Labor Day. Just as important in that Brewers-Pirates game was the appearance of Yovani Gallardo, who had been shelved since tearing his ACL on May 1. But he was back, giving his team four strong innings as the Brewers kept pace with the Pirates in a pitchers’ duel. Gallardo allowed three hits and struck out seven.
Short rest. The Brewers’ rotation hammer put it all on the line in the home stretch. Starting Sept. 16 in a loss to the Cubs, Sabathia pitched on three days rest for each of his next four appearances (including the regular-season finale and Game 2 of the playoffs). He took losses in each of the first two games (both by one run) and then won his final two games before falling in the playoffs to Philadelphia. It’s an unforgettable note on the Sabathia experience in Milwaukee. He finished 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA during his time with the Brewers. Milwaukee finished 14-3 in regular-season games Sabathia started.
Ben Sheets out. The Brewers’ ace for most of his eight seasons, Sheets was now unfortunately going to miss his first chance at the playoffs. An MRI revealed that Sheets had a torn muscle near his pitching elbow shortly after he struggled in the penultimate day of the season against the Cubs, ruling him out for the postseason. It was a solemn final chapter for a player who was set to become a free agent and ultimately never would pitch in Milwaukee again.
“We tried everything (to get past the injury),” Sheets said. “It didn’t work. I’m disappointed on a personal level but I feel like I’ve been a big part of why we’re here. I feel I definitely helped us get to this point.”
Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter. This would have been a “big story line” if not for the ample story lines of September. One day before Yost was fired, the Chicago Cubs played the Houston Astros for the first of two games at Miller Park, with Hurricane Ike necessitating the relocation of the series to a neutral venue. Zambrano threw the only no-hitter ever pitched on the Miller Park mound, shutting out Houston, 5-0, and allowing just one walk and one hit batsman with 10 strikeouts. He faced just one over the minimum. The opposing pitcher that day? Future Brewers starter Randy Wolf. Chicago then went home to Wrigley Field to meet the Brewers and took two of three, including a walk-off winner on Derrek Lee’s single in the 12th inning.
Review denied. It took until Sept. 3, but an MLB scoring review committee denied the Brewers’ appeal of the scoring decision in the Aug. 31 battle that counted a slow roller as a hit and not an error on Sabathia. It was the difference between a no-hitter and a one-hitter. There had been no precedent of awarding a pitcher a no-hitter on appeal.
A release by the committee stated, “It was the collective decision of the committee that the judgment of the scorer was not ‘clearly erroneous,’ which is the standard set forth in Official Scoring Rule 10.01(a), and thus did not meet the criteria for League reversal of the call made by Official Scorer Bob Webb.”
You may have forgotten
After the shakeup in the managerial ranks, Sveum brought back another former Brewers player, Robin Yount, to serve as bench coach, replacing Ted Simmons, who was reassigned. Yount had been the club’s bench coach in 2005 and 2006 but didn’t come back for 2007.
The organization’s minor-league player of the year, Jeremy Jeffress, made an appearance at Miller Park early in the month. He had served a 50-game suspension for marijuana use toward the end of 2007 but battled back to reclaim his career – and 10 years later, he’s one of the most important members of the current Brewers.
Outside baseball in September 2008
Sept. 3: The new NBA franchise in Oklahoma City (relocated from Seattle) announces that it will be called the “Thunder.”
Sept. 14: Not only did Hurricane Ike move baseball games, but the Week 2 NFL battle between the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens was relocated to Week 9. It’s a rough way to lose a bye week.
We won’t spend a separate story on what happened in October, but Brewers fans naturally will remember the 3-1 series loss to eventual World Series champion Philadelphia in the opening round.
Milwaukee lost both games to start the series on the road. Sabathia was beaten in Game 2, oddly haunted by opposing pitcher Brett Myers, who worked Sabathia for a nine-pitch walk and a 10-pitch out in his next at-bat. The first at-bat was the killer, extending the inning for Shane Victorino’s grand slam that gave the Phillies a five-run inning and a lead they would never give back.
Philly, which had won the first game, 3-1, took Game 2, 5-2. The Brewers did the walking in Game 3, drawing five and doing enough for a 4-1 win. But in Game 4, Jeff Suppan yielded a leadoff homer to Jimmy Rollins and then a four-run third as the Phillies prevailed, 6-2.