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Brewers rally to earn winning season

Brewers rally to earn winning season

MILWAUKEE -- They may not have won the ultimate prize, but the Brewers can't be called losers anymore.

And the way they shrugged off that label on Saturday, led by a trio of guys from Triple-A Nashville, it made you wonder if it was meant to be.

Tony Gwynn Jr. hit the game-tying single off his Hall of Fame dad's former team, Mitch Stetter beat his old college roommate for his first big league win and lifelong Brewers fan Vinny Rottino hit the game-winning single that ended it, sending his home-state team to a 4-3, 11-inning win over the Padres at sold-out Miller Park on Saturday.

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With their 82nd victory in their 161st game, the Brewers accomplished what manager Ned Yost called a "huge goal" and clinched a winning season for the first time since 1992. No matter how disappointed they were about being eliminated from National League Central contention by the Padres on Friday night, the Brewers showed up Saturday with something to play for.

"I knew that was the elephant in the room that nobody was talking about," said Rottino, who grew up a Brewers fan in nearby Racine, Wis., and signed as a non-drafted free agent four years ago. "I knew this was a big win. It put us over that hump. We broke that streak."

Rottino's hit made a winner of Stetter (1-0) and a loser of Padres left-hander Joe Thatcher (2-2), who was traded from Milwaukee to San Diego in July.

Entering the year, the Brewers and Pirates had played 14 consecutive non-winning seasons. Milwaukee finished 81-81 in 2005, getting a go-ahead home run from another Wisconsin native, Damian Miller, to end what was then a 12-year losing streak. But the '05 team dropped its final two games in Pittsburgh to settle for a .500 finish.

Now the franchise has shed the semantics. The "non-winning" streak is over.

"We've heard and heard and heard and heard [about the streak]," Yost said. "Even when you get to 81-81, it's still, 'But you haven't had a winning season!' That's a huge hurdle to get over."

"It is symbolic," principal owner Mark Attanasio said on his birthday. "This year was all about making the playoffs. However, we needed to bring a winner to the community. ... I think it's tangible evidence of what we have achieved this year. Everybody can feel good about it."

Everybody was feeling food Saturday after an improbable comeback put a hold on the Padres' Wild Card celebration. Gwynn called it "getting back" at the Padres for dashing the Brewers' division title hopes Friday night.

San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez drove in all three Padres runs for a 3-2 lead that held into the bottom of the ninth, when the Brewers were down to their final out against all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman.

With two outs and Corey Hart at second base on a double, Yost tabbed pinch-hitter Gwynn in a move he said was purely statistical. Left-handed hitters like Gwynn were batting .290 against Hoffman entering play; right-handers were hitting just .149.

But again there seemed to be karma at work. Gwynn's father played all 20 of his seasons in San Diego, and "Little T" grew up in the Padres' clubhouse. He remembered horsing around with Hoffman as a kid.

Gwynn was down to his final strike and was getting a steady diet of Hoffman's legendary changeups. Gwynn got another changeup -- a good one, down in the strike zone -- on a 2-2 pitch, and Gwynn pulled it to right field for a triple that tied the game at 3.

"It's kind of awkward," Gwynn said. "I've been rooting for the Padres my whole entire life, and now you're in a situation where you possibly hurt their chances to get in the playoffs. But they ruined our chance [to win the Central Division] so I guess this is a way of kind of getting back."

Gwynn was stranded at third base in that inning, so the game went to extras, and both teams were held scoreless in the 10th. Because Yost declined to double-switch when he inserted Brewers closer Francisco Cordero in the 10th -- Cordero had thrown too many pitches warming up Friday night to pitch more than one inning Saturday, Yost explained -- Chris Spurling was sent out for the top of the 11th. He recorded two outs, but former Brewers outfielder Brady Clark dribbled an infield single up the third-base line.

Enter Stetter, who was rehabbing an injury at Double-A Huntsville, when Thatcher, his good friend and one-time roommate at Indiana State University, was traded to the Padres in a deal that brought Scott Linebrink to Milwaukee. Stetter took Thatcher's spot at Nashville, then earned a big league callup when rosters expanded in September.

Stetter retired pinch-hitter Jason Lane on a groundout to second base, but it was close. Lane appeared to stumble as he approached first base, and as he fell he clipped Prince Fielder's leg and sent the first baseman to the ground. Fielder said later that he was "fine," and Lane was out.

Thatcher entered for the 11th against Ryan Braun, who started the day a .445 hitter against left-handers and ripped a leadoff double. Fielder was intentionally walked before a Corey Hart flyout moved the potential winning run to third. Rottino, who caught Thatcher at Nashville and knew the left-hander liked throwing first-pitch cut fastballs to right-handed hitters, got one, sending a game-winning single through the hole between shortstop and third base.

"I knew he was going to do it," Stetter said. "It was a sure thing."

Rottino was mobbed after rounding first base, while Brewers starter Dave Bush -- who pitched 6 2/3 innings, surrendered three runs and was on the hook for the loss before Gwynn's clutch hit -- ran to left field to gather up the baseball. Bush presented it after the game to Stetter.

"His first big league win," Bush said. "That's a keepsake I have, and I'm sure he will appreciate it, too."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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