BALTIMORE — The Milwaukee Brewers are who they are, and we love ’em for it. They hit, mash homers and score run after run. Their pitching is inconsistent, but they are anchored by three All-Star caliber veterans. And, most importantly, the Milwaukee Brewers are exciting.
We know this. These are the ingredients that have made for a dramatic season. And how exciting would it have been to clinch the American League East before traveling to Baltimore for the final four games of the season? Or even clinch in games one, two or three?
No, it came down to the final game. For us. For our enjoyment. Though it would have been a painful loss, the final week of turbulence added an exclamation point to this final game. Victory could never feel so sweet.
If the Brewers have proven anything to us fans throughout the season, it’s that they can handle adversity. They overcame a rough start and managerial change to unexpectedly take, and hold, the divisional lead. Did you think the Brewers would fail to overcome this little obstacle? Shame on you.
By any account, this was Major League Baseball’s regular season game of the year. The drama could not possibly be greater, deciding a division on the final game of the season. Potential Hall of Famers Don Sutton and Jim Palmer faced off in Orioles manager Earl Weaver’s final game.
Orioles fans were confident, strolling through the turnstiles in droves with signs that exclaimed “Sweep!” and dancing with brooms as they mocked their downtrodden opponents. They could taste a division title.
But of course, this was the stage for Robin Yount to again remind us why he is the runaway American League Most Valuable Player. On the final day of the season, in enemy territory, when his team needed a leader to step forward.
With one down in the top of the first inning, Yount made a statement to the Orioles and their fans with his solo home run: The first three games are forgotten. Today is a new day. This game will not be so easy.
Yount’s statement set the tone, but it was how the bottom of the first inning ended that made it clear that the Brewers were a motivated and focused bunch. With two down and runners at first and second, John Lowenstein smacked a single to right field. Glenn Gulliver ran through third base coach Cal Ripken Sr.’s stop sign and Brewers right fielder Charlie Moore accepted the challenge, throwing a pea to catcher Ted Simmons that easily nailed Gulliver at the plate.
The Brewers’ momentum carried over into the top of the second when Gorman Thomas led off with a walk, and a flustered Jim Palmer threw an errant pick-off throw into right field. The gaff landed Thomas on third base with no one out. When Thomas stepped on home plate after a Roy Howell groundout, it was a 2-0 Brewers lead heading into the bottom of the second.
This was new ground for the Orioles, who had scored at least three runs by the end of the second inning in each of the first three games of the series. Down 2-0, it was also the first time during the series that the home team had been down by as many as two runs.
The Orioles needed to counter the Brewers’ emotion, but they had no answers early. Sutton disposed of the opposition rather easily in the second, and the Brewers were ready once again to strike in the third.
With one down, Jim Palmer faced a familiar foe. For the second time in three innings, Robin Yount drove a solo shot into the right field bleachers to extend the Brewers lead to 3-0.
The Orioles’ Glenn Gulliver responded with a solo home run of his own in the bottom of the third, but the run was only a minor annoyance for Sutton and the Brewers. And once the Orioles failed to capitalize on a bases loaded opportunity with two outs in the fifth, loyal Brewers fans began confidently preparing champagne glasses in Milwaukee.
Cecil Cooper, the Brewers’ presumed runner up for team MVP this season, led off the top of the sixth with a solo home run. After a Ted Simmons walk, Jim Palmer was unceremoniously removed from the game in favor of Tippy Martinez. By knocking Palmer out of the game, the Brewers had already won.
In the bottom of the eighth, Baltimore provided one final scare for fans back in Milwaukee. A temporary bout of Sutton wildness put two runners on via the walk in the eighth, leading to a one-out, run-scoring single by Terry Crowley.
Harvey Kuenn then trotted out to the mound and put Sutton’s fate in his own hands: Talk Kuenn into leaving him out there, or be removed. Kuenn left Sutton on the mound.
Then, with runners on first and third and two down, pinch hitter Joe Nolan hit a slicing fly ball into left. Ben Oglivie ran it down, sliding into the corner to make an amazing, inning-ending grab.
It was likely the most important catch in Milwaukee Brewers franchise history. Oglivie saved two runs on the play, and possibly more since a hit would have extended the inning. The catch preserved a comfortable three-run lead for the Brewers with only one inning to go.
Through the eighth, the Brewers had provided a large dose of pitching and defense to put themselves in position to win. The only ingredient yet to be displayed was the one that has made them famous this year: Offense.
Don Money led off the top of the ninth inning with a double. Dennis Martinez retired Charlie Moore and Ed Romero, and then all hell broke loose. Molitor hit a ground ball single up the middle that scored Marshall Edwards (who had come in to run for Moore). Yount was hit by a pitch. Cooper greeted new pitcher Mike Flanagan with a double that scored both Molitor and Yount. And to cap it off, Ted Simmons — by all accounts the leader of this team — hit a two-run homer.
Five runs came across for the Brewers in the top of the ninth. The score, with the Orioles coming to bat for the final time, was Brewers 10 and Orioles 2.
John Shelby led off the final inning with a single to left off of Bob McClure. Dan Ford popped out to Yount on the infield. Benny Ayala flied out to Gorman Thomas in center. Eddie Murray hit a single up the middle.
Then, the moment we Brewers fans may cherish for generations: Gary Roenicke hit a lazy fly ball that fell safely into the glove of left fielder Ben Oglivie.
Pop the champagne! Dance in the streets! The Brewers have won the American League East!
The Brewers have won as a team all season long. It was only fitting that this final regular season win would be a team effort. Don Sutton was sharp on the mound. Robin Yount hit two home runs and a triple. Cecil Cooper hit a home run and a double. Ted Simmons hit a crucial two-out, two-run homer. Ben Oglivie made a sliding catch into the left-field corner that may have saved the team’s season. Paul Molitor and Roy Howell knocked in runs. Charlie Moore threw out a runner at home to end the first. And Bob McClure held the lead in the bullpen.
Enjoy this feeling, Brewers fans. Our Brewers are AL East Champions. The American League Championship Series begins on October 5 in Anaheim, where your Milwaukee Brewers will participate in a best of five for rights to play in the World Series.
So, how do you plan to celebrate a Brewers appearance in the playoffs?