Brewers rally to take care of Padres

Brewers rally to take care of Padres

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Ned Yost just about jumped out of his cushy office chair on Sunday morning. Someone had just asked whether his players would remember the 2007 season as a good one or as a disappointment.

"Are you crazy?" Yost asked. "Of course they're going to appreciate it. They accomplished all kinds of things this year. For the first time, they've played with expectations. It's very, very tough.

"The experience they've got is tremendous. To break the 15-year cycle of losing was a huge goal. To play deep, deep, deep into September was great ... to break our attendance record ... to break the [franchise] home run record ... those kids have so much to be proud for, and if they think for one second that they let anybody down, they're dead wrong."

But even though they ended with consecutive wins, including an 11-6 triumph over the Padres on Sunday that prolonged San Diego's Wild Card chase, the Brewers were unable to win a division they led for 133 days. But by finishing 83-79, they also finished the year with a winning record for the first time since 1992, the last season of the Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount triumvirate.

And that's good for something, Yost said.

"We haven't played winning baseball in 15 years, and you expect us to win the World Series?" Yost said. "We wanted to win our division, big time, and we are horribly disappointed that we didn't. We just set our sights on next year now. ...

"For anybody to think this year was a failure, or we didn't accomplish anything this year, they're dead wrong."

On Sunday, with National League MVP hopeful Prince Fielder on the bench with an ankle injury, the Brewers rallied back from an early three-run deficit, gave longtime Brewers standout Geoff Jenkins an emotional sendoff and prevented the Padres from clinching the NL Wild Card. Winning pitcher Jeff Suppan (12-12) evened his record for the season, and Corey Hart homered and drove in three runs for the Brewers, who finished two games behind the NL Central champion Cubs.

The Padres will play on. San Diego needed a Colorado loss Sunday to clinch the NL Wild Card, but minutes after Francisco Cordero recorded the final out at Miller Park, the Rockies won to force a one-game playoff in Denver on Monday.

With that backdrop, Yost managed Sunday's game just like the first 161, even though his team was eliminated from postseason contention on Friday.

"We play the way that we would like other clubs to play for us in those situations," Yost said. "We were going to go full out. We have the utmost respect for San Diego, but we feel we owe it to Major League Baseball to give our very, very best effort even though we were eliminated. ...

"Some teams, this time of year, they'll shut it down. They get eliminated, and that's it. These kids don't play that game."

Said Hart: "This is huge stuff for us, because anybody can lay down after a letdown. We are not going to lay down and let somebody walk into the playoffs."

The Padres took note.

"This team was playing for a winning season, and they have a lot of pride, even with three games left in the season," Padres outfielder Brian Giles said. "That was a good ballclub, a young team, and they've got nothing to be ashamed of. They're in it to win, and they're going to be a force in the NL Central for years to come."

In front of the 31st sellout crowd at Miller Park this season, San Diego jumped to an early lead against Suppan, batting around in the first inning and taking a 3-0 advantage. Giles hit Suppan's fifth pitch for a leadoff home run (it was actually Suppan's sixth pitch, but a strike was nullified when umpire Bruce Froemming noticed that a gate in right field was hanging open) and Geoff Blum cashed in later in the frame with a two-out, two-run double.

The Brewers came back, scoring all 11 of their runs after the third inning. Hart hit his 24th home run, a solo shot off Padres starter Brett Tomko (4-12) in the fourth inning, giving the Brewers a Major League-best and franchise-record 231 homers this season. Hart also drove in runs in the fifth and the eighth.

Hart was among the young Brewers who said they would miss Jenkins, assuming the Brewers decline the veteran's $9 million option for 2008. Jenkins ranks second to Robin Yount on the franchise's all-time home run list, and played through nine non-winning seasons before this year's breakthrough.

Before Cordero trudged through the ninth, surrendering a pair of Padres home runs, Brewers fans gave Jenkins an emotional sendoff. After Cordero completed his warmup tosses, Yost sent Mel Stocker to left field to replace Jenkins, who went 0-for-4 in his 1,234th and likely final game for the franchise.

"I had a lot of emotions going. It was a great moment," said Jenkins, who did not know Yost had planned the gesture. "No regrets, man. I had a wonderful time here and played with a ton of great teammates."

"I think it was important for our fans to take a second and say, 'Thank you for everything you have done,'" Yost said. "We don't know what's going to happen. We still have to make decisions, but they start in the next couple of days."

As Brewers players scattered Sunday, some were asked, "Now what?" Shortstop J.J. Hardy was among those who planned to watch postseason games on television from his home in Tempe, Ariz., where they no doubt will be pulling for the Diamondbacks to beat the Cubs in the NL Division Series.

Since they reside in the same division, will Hardy root for the Cubs?

"Definitely not," he said with a smile. "I guess I can root for the D-backs. I don't really have a favorite, but I'm not going to be rooting for the Cubs."

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