Commentary

Brewers beginning to like living on the edge

Originally Published: October 4, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- They're the team you just can't kill.

Every time you think those Milwaukee Brewers are heading for the town morgue, they keep springing back to life, like that pesky monster in "Alien."

They've seen those buildings crash around them for three weeks now. They've dodged more bullets than James Bond.

And now here they are again, still standing, still playing, still threatening to keep those Milwaukee crowds roaring and CC Sabathia wearing his Brewers shirt.

There they were Saturday, about to play Game 3 of the National League Division Series -- down 0-2 in a series where three losses send you home. That might sound like a major crisis for some teams. But for the Brewers, that just means they had the Phillies right where they wanted them.

So of course the Brewers rose up to beat the Phillies 4-1. Of course they got a win out of a pitcher (Dave Bush) who hadn't won since Aug. 29 -- and hadn't beaten a team with a winning record since June 19.

Of course an offense that spent the first two games acting like a two-pitch at-bat was its idea of working the count forced Jamie Moyer to throw 62 pitches in the first two innings. Of course the Brew Crew got a save out of closer Salomon Torres after he'd loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth.

Of course.

They wouldn't want it any other way. The bigger the mess, the happier they are.

"That's us," said Torres, after the Brewers had lived to play another day. "We're always fighting against the current -- and always coming out on top."

When you've found yourselves three games out in the loss column with a week left in the season -- as the Brewers have -- nobody needs to hand you a dictionary to spell out the meaning of that fabled term, "must-win game." They get the concept.

Must-win games are about the only kind this team has been playing since the middle of September. So what's another one? Or two? Or three? Been there. Done that. And now those Brewers are doing it again.

"We're tough, man," said center fielder Mike Cameron. "We've got ourselves a tough ballclub here."

And he ought to know. Nobody was the poster boy for "tough" like Cameron was Saturday.

[+] EnlargeSalomon Torres
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallSalomon Torres got the save after loading the bases in the ninth with no one out.

In between Game 2 Thursday and Game 3 Saturday, not much happened in his life. Except that late-night team flight from Philadelphia to Milwaukee. And that arrival home at about 2 in the morning. And then those "15 or 16 phone calls" from his wife at 4:30 a.m., to inform him that she'd just gone into labor -- in Georgia.

And then a hectic scramble to the airport, another flight (to Atlanta), a race to the hospital to see his wife and his new daughter, Lilo. And then a few hours' sleep, yet one more sprint to one more airport Saturday morning, a plane ride back to Milwaukee that didn't land until 4½ hours before game time, and then The Latest, Greatest, Biggest Game of the Year.

It's amazing Mike Cameron could even stay awake for that game. Instead, he set the tone for this entire day with a four-pitch walk leading off the game, off that noted control artist, Moyer, of all people.

That walk ignited a two-run first inning, unleashed a tidal wave of noise from a crowd that hadn't witnessed a postseason baseball game in 26 years and kicked off a huge day in which Cameron got on base four times for the first time in six weeks.

Asked how much sleep he'd gotten since Game 2 ended Thursday, Cameron scratched his head and answered: "I don't know. Maybe eight hours."

But that's OK, he said.

"Hopefully, we'll win tomorrow," he said, only to follow that up with an important question: "What's tomorrow? Sunday? Right, Sunday. Well, hopefully, we'll win tomorrow and then I'll get some sleep Sunday."

At the next locker, teammate Craig Counsell was asked: So if Mike Cameron can get on base four times after not sleeping, flying all over America and welcoming a new addition to the family, what should the rest of the Brewers be doing to prepare for Game 4?

"Hmmm," Counsell smiled. "I think I'm going to tell my wife to have her baby tonight."

Just for the record, Counsell's wife is extremely pregnant, so that's not impossible. But also for the record, this was a game that might well go down as an even bigger birth for this franchise.

The last time the Brewers won a postseason game, Bud Selig was still a decade away from assuming the acting commissionership, Dave Bush was 2 years old (and a future Phillies fan), and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder had yet to make their debuts on Planet Earth.

So what they did Saturday -- not just the fact that they won, but how they won -- has a chance to be a franchise-altering event, for players and fans alike.

Over Games 1 and 2, the Brewers hit .115 as a team. All the members of the lineup they ran out there Saturday who were not named Ryan Braun were a combined 2-for-40 in this series. Yep, 2-for-40 (a "team" average of, gasp, .050). And they'd had 22 -- count 'em, 22 -- at-bats that lasted either one pitch or two over the first two games. Which wasn't working out real well.

So they went into this game with a whole new plan -- to make the 45-year-old Moyer work for every strike, every out, every inning. And that's exactly what they did.

Moyer hadn't walked the first two hitters of any game he'd pitched over the past 11 seasons. But he walked Cameron and Bill Hall to start this game. And nothing was ever the same.

The Brewers (who had been 0-for-the series with men in scoring position) got both of them home, on a Prince Fielder sacrifice fly and a J.J. Hardy single. And by the time Moyer headed for the showers after four exasperating innings, he'd thrown 90 pitches, and he'd been forced to launch at least four pitches to 23 of the 25 hitters he faced.

"It was very important to show that discipline," said Hall, "because Jamie Moyer is not going to give you a lot of pitches to hit. He wants you to get yourself out. … So we were able to set the tone early, get some guys on base, put a little pressure on him and get some big hits. And then we were able to relax a little bit."

[+] EnlargeJJ Hardy
Tom Fluegge/US PresswireShortstop J.J. Hardy had three hits, scored once and drove in a run.

Yeah, but just a little bit. The Brewers are required by Wisconsin state law to make everything they do as dramatic as possible. So they squandered nonstop chances to blow this game open, left 12 runners on base (a Brewers postseason record) and took just a 4-1 lead into the ninth.

Whereupon the always-adventurous Torres -- a guy with a 12.46 ERA since Sept. 8 -- came marching in to manufacture the kind of inning that sums up the entire past month of this team's life.

Ryan Howard, Greg Dobbs and Shane Victorino went single, single, single. The bases were loaded. Nobody was out. Boos reverberated from every crevice of jam-packed Miller Park. And Salomon Torres was looking deep into his soul and …

Realizing he'd never felt better.

"I was feeling as relaxed as I can be," Torres swore later. "People might not believe it, but I was relaxed -- because I said, 'What am I gonna do? I'm gonna freak out now, when the game is on the line?' I said, 'Just see what you can do.'"

So he tossed up a first-pitch slider to the relentlessly hacking Pedro Feliz. Feliz stroked a textbook double-play ball to third base. And Torres had gotten himself within one out of an official October save, even though a run had crossed the plate.

But just because it had crossed the plate didn't mean it was going to count. While Counsell was turning that double play, Victorino got called for obstruction, for wandering beyond the bag and never actually sliding at all.

So just as the game was getting ready to resume, Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum came roaring out of the dugout toward plate ump Brian Runge. If obstruction had been called, Sveum asked, didn't that mean the runners had to go back to their original base -- thereby taking that run off the board?

Runge huddled with his fellow umpires, agreed with that premise and struck that second Phillies run from the official record -- as even Sveum's own players tried to figure out what just happened.

In fact, even the two principals in the play -- Torres and Counsell -- admitted they had no idea how that rule worked.

"Well," said one of the helpful media experts Counsell was conversing with, "apparently your manager did."

"That's his job, I guess," Counsell laughed. "That's why they give him that rulebook, apparently."

Right. And Torres then reminded everybody why his team gives him the baseball by getting Carlos Ruiz to nub one back to the mound for the final out. And the Brewers were alive -- for one more day.

Torres called this save "beautiful." But what it really was, was "perfect." One minute, it was a mess. The next minute, everything was fine. For now.

"Yeah, it was a mess," Counsell said. "And it's the messes we've been getting ourselves into. … But we've been doing a pretty good job getting out of those messes, too."

They're not done getting out of this one, of course. They still need to win Sunday, just to get a chance to get Sabathia back on the mound Tuesday in Game 5. And the odds still aren't with them. They're well aware of that.

No National League team has ever fallen behind, two games to zip, in a best-of-five postseason series and come back to win it. But there's an asterisk next to that stat, because the Brewers are one team that has done it.

That was the '82 Brewers, of course. And they played in the American League back then. But since this Brewers team has spent all season celebrating that Brewers team (by wearing those '82 jerseys every Friday on Retro Night), this group knows all about that group. And it might be just the kind of inspiration these Brewers need.

"In the year 2025," said Hall, "we want somebody to be wearing those '08 Brewers jerseys on Retro Night."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

ALSO SEE