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Greatest Games of the 21st Century: #2 Ryan Braun and C.C. Sabathia lead Brewers back to playoffs

With a little help from a former Brewer in Miami, Sabathia submits another gem and Braun clouts the go-ahead score as Milwaukee ends a 26-year playoff drought

Darren Hauck/Getty Images

I don't know if it mattered. I only know what it felt like.

With 12 games to play in the 2008 season and Milwaukee suddenly trailing in the Wild Card race, it felt for all the world like unless Ned Yost was fired, the Brewers would miss the playoffs -- again. Is that nonsense? Probably. Yost was the man who'd brought them to be in playoff position in the first place, and with two weeks remaining, it's not likely Dale Sveum was going to be a major improvement. Svuem owns a career .399 winning percentage as a manager and again serves as Yost's hitting coach, now in Kansas City. Yost, of course, is now a World Series champion, a two-time pennant winner, and the owner of the best postseason winning percentage (22-9, .710) in baseball history among managers with at least 20 games. Baseball is weird, man. I don't know if it mattered. I only know what it felt like.

We'll get to the game in a minute, but you need the backstory to understand this game and it's importance. You wouldn't buy into a movie about a billionaire running around dressed like a winged rodent and punching clowns if you didn't know why -- we need to hear about Bruce Wayne to understand Batman.

Entering September of 2008 the Brewers, seeking their first playoff berth in 26 years, were 80-56 and seemed to be in control of their playoff destiny, holding a 5.5 game lead over Philadelphia for the Wild Card spot while sitting within striking distance of the division-leading Cubs. Having just wrapped up a 20-7 August, the Crew were rolling -- until the wheels came off. The Brewers lost 11 of their next 14 games, a graveyard spiral that culminated with a four-game sweep at the hand of the Phillies that left Milwaukee outside the playoff picture for the first time. After the Brewers were outscored 13-4 in a September 14th doubleheader that put a devastating bow on the Phillies sweep, Milwaukee fired Yost and named Sveum their interim manager.

The Brewers still dropped 3 of their next 4, but Sveum would right the ship to finish the season with a 7-5 record and is technically the winningest Brewers manager in franchise history by percentage. Taking over a team now trailing in the Wild Card race, he needed some help and found it in the Mets, who were undergoing a collapse of their own as they watched Philadelphia blow past them for the division title. We'll discuss some of the other games from those tense two weeks, I'm quite sure, as we continue this series. But when the season's final day arrived, the Brewers and Mets were locked in a dead-heat at 89-72.

Milwaukee, at home facing the hated Cubs, failed to take advantage of a bit of good fortune as Lou Pinella elected to send a cadre of relief pitchers to the mound in place of Carlos Zambrano in order to keep the hot-headed Venezuelan available for game one of their NLDS series. The Brewers mustered only one hit -- a leadoff single in the first from MIke Cameron -- over six innings from Angel Guzman, Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts and Kevin Hart.

C.C. Sabathia, pitching on three days rest for the third consecutive time, allowed an unearned run in the second after a Prince Fielder error allowed Aramis Ramirez (a lot of former Brewers for both teams in this paragraph, folks) to get to third. He would eventually score to put the Cubs up 1-0, but Sabathia would not allow another runner to reach second base. Meanwhile in New York, the Mets and Marlins traded pairs of runs in the sixth inning to keep that game tied.

In the seventh inning, an instant rally from Ray Durham gave the Brewers a threat, and a pair of one-out walks -- one intentional to Fielder -- loaded the bases with one out.  After a strikeout by Corey Hart, Craig Counsell -- ever the clutch hero -- drew an RBI walk from Michael Wuertz to tie the game at one and re-ignite a tense but hopeful sellout crowd at Miller Park. A ground out from Jason Kendall ended the threat, but an update from the right field wall scoreboard sent a jolt through the crowd:

NYM 2   TOP 8 
FLA   4

Those of us watching at home got the full story. Wes Helms, a former Brewer now playing for Florida, crushed a pinch-hit home run to lead off the eighth and put the Mets down 3-2. Dan Uggla followed with a full count home run of his own to give Florida -- and the Brewers -- a little insurance.

Now if you cry easy, dear readers, be careful here. As George F. Will once quipped, "Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal." This game, and this call, were not created equal.

Ryan Braun's second huge September homer

09/28/08 off Bobby Howry. The Brewers and Cubs were tied at 1 going into the bottom of the 8th as CC Sabathia was in the midst of his third straight start on three days' rest to close out the playoff push. Braun came up, knocked it out, everybody screamed, Seth McClung danced, and half an hour later, when the Marlins beat the Mets, the Brewers were in the playoffs. And that's how I met your mother.

Posted by Brew Crew Ball on Wednesday, April 8, 2009

With two outs and Cameron on first, Braun smoked the first pitch he saw from Bob Howry into the left field seats, sending the Miller Park faithful into a frenzy. Look at Seth McClung jumping around in the bullpen like an 8-year-old! What a moment. Bah, god, now I'm crying again, just a minute please...

I jumped and screamed in front of a tiny television at a cousin's birthday party next to my dad, while the rest of my family sat mesmerized watching a young Aaron Rodgers throw three interceptions against Tampa Bay in a 30-21 loss on the big screen in the other room -- not to worry, I immediately disowned the lot of them.

Sabathia came in to seal the deal, capping his preposterous half-season in Milwaukee with a four-hit masterpiece. As his 335th pitch in nine days resulted in a game-ending double play, he bellowed toward the home dugout in one of the most indelible images in Brewers history. Miller Park remained at capacity as 45,299 watched the Marlins finish off the Mets on the scoreboard. Blue and yellow streamers flew as Ryan Church's deep fly fell harmlessly into Cameron Maybin's glove, finally ending a quarter-century of baseball futility in the Cream City.