Brewers look forward to Fenway visit

Brewers look forward to Fenway visit

MILWAUKEE -- Five years ago, when the Brewers last faced the Boston Red Sox, it was a classic mismatch. The Brewers were still licking their wounds from a 106-loss 2002 season, while the Red Sox were on their way to the American League Championship Series.

The Brewers lost two of three games in that series, but will head to venerable Fenway Park beginning Friday looking for a different result. Though they still may be regarded as underdogs, they have significantly narrowed the gap.

"We see ourselves on par with anybody in baseball," said left fielder Ryan Braun. "We have to go out and prove it day in and day out, though."

Braun's new eight-year, $45 million contract meant he was due to pick up a dinner tab or two in Boston. It also meant another symbolic step forward for a Brewers franchise trying to break free of years of mediocrity.

His contract is the longest and richest in club history, and the most significant deal ever awarded a player with fewer than two years of Major League experience.

Still, the Brewers, with their $82 million payroll, face an uphill climb against teams like the Red Sox, who field a team that costs nearly $145 million.

"We've always been looked upon as a small-market team," said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who was a Red Sox consultant before taking Milwaukee's GM job in late 2002. "We try not to have that attitude."

Jeff Suppan (one of a number of former Red Sox on Milwaukee's roster), Carlos Villanueva and Dave Bush are set to start for the Brewers in the three-game Interleague series against Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett.

Milwaukee's three starters are a combined 5-10 and none have an ERA better than Suppan's 4.63. Boston's trio is 13-5 and Wakefield owns the highest ERA at 4.25.

"I feel like it's going to be a good series," Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "I definitely don't feel like it will be a wash. None of us have any feelings like that."

The right-handed-heavy Brewers will have to guard against swinging for the Green Monster in left field. Perhaps their two or three trips a year to Minute Maid Park, with its short-porch Crawford Boxes in left, will help in that area.

In terms of tradition, the Brewers are regular visitors to Chicago's Wrigley Field. Still, many viewed a trip to Fenway Park as a treat.

"I'm excited because of the ballpark and the history there," Villanueva said. "I always wanted to go to Wrigley [Field], Fenway and all the old stadiums. I don't think I'll get to go to Yankee Stadium unless we play them in the World Series, I guess. Boston is full of history and I'm happy to get to pitch there."

Said Braun: "I'm excited about it. There's a ton of history there, a ton of tradition. They're a great team, World Series champions. It should definitely be a lot of fun."

The Brewers were an American League franchise from 1969-1997, so they made plenty of trips to Fenway. But they have not been back since, playing the Red Sox in Interleague Play only once, and in Milwaukee.

There are some personal storylines for the visitors. Brewers manager Ned Yost had the biggest moment of his career at Fenway Park, hitting a game-winning, three-run home run on Sept. 29, 1982, that gave the Brewers a four-game lead over the Orioles in the American League East with five games left in the regular season. It proved a decisive win; the Brewers lost their next four games before winning in Baltimore on the final day of the season to clinch the division. They have not been back to the playoffs since.

For outfielder Gabe Kapler and closer Eric Gagne, it's a return to their former home, though each player has different feelings about the place. Gagne struggled mightily after a midseason trade to Boston last summer, but still netted a $10 million contract with the Brewers. Kapler played for the Red Sox for parts of 2003-2006 and was one of the emotional leaders of the 2004 team that snapped Boston's long championship drought.

"Fenway is a special place," Kapler said. "Every inning played there is electric, no matter who is the opponent. I'm sure it's going to be a little bit different for us than it is for [the Red Sox]."

Brewers slugger Prince Fielder said he had been to Fenway Park several times with his father, former Major League slugger Cecil Fielder. "It's cool," Fielder said. "I don't really care, though. It's where we have to go, so you just have to play. They're going to be tough because they're good." The American League has won more games in Interleague Play for four straight seasons, but the Brewers bucked that trend in 2007, going 8-7.

Interleague by the numbers: 72-82 overall, 8-7 in 2007

Record vs. Red Sox: 184-213

All-time Club Interleague Play Leaders: (min. 100 at-bats and 30 innings pitched)
• Batting average: Jeff Cirillo, .354
• Home runs: Geoff Jenkins, 25
• RBIs: Jenkins, 89
• Wins: Chris Capuano and Ben Sheets, 5
• ERA: Bob Wickman, 1.74

2008 Interleague Schedule
• May 16-18: at Boston
• June 13-15: vs. Minnesota
• June 17-19: vs. Toronto
• June 20-22: vs. Baltimore
• June 27-29: at Minnesota

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Jeff Suppan (2-2, 4.63 ERA)
Suppan will be facing the team with which he broke into the Major Leagues in 1995 and spent parts of three seasons, going 7-9 with a 6.10 ERA in 29 outings at Fenway Park. He will hope for better results as the Brewers begin Interleague Play, and is coming off one of his best starts this season, a seven-inning, one-run performance against the Cardinals at Miller Park. The win snapped Suppan's two-game losing streak.

BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (6-0, 2.45 ERA)
Matsuzaka is looking for his seventh win in eight starts this season. After a season-high eight walks on May 5 in Detroit, Matsuzaka settled down last Saturday in Minnesota and issued three over his seven innings, allowing six hits and two runs while earning his second win of the month. The right-hander will look to become the fourth Red Sox hurler this decade to start a season 7-0, joining Josh Beckett (9-0 in 2007), John Burkett (7-0, 2002) and Pedro Martinez (7-0, 2002).

Tidbits
The Brewers are coming off a series loss to the Dodgers, but still finished the homestand with four wins in seven games. They went 2-9 on their last road trip, including six straight losses, and are 9-12 away from Miller Park. ... Reliever Mark DiFelice is expected to join the Brewers on Friday. He was promoted from Triple-A Nashville to replace injured right-hander David Riske. It likely means a higher profile for right-hander Seth McClung, who had been serving in the long relief role that now will be filled by DiFelice. ... Brewers left-handed reliever Mitch Stetter suddenly cannot find the strike zone. He has walked seven of the last 11 hitters he has faced in two outings. "If he's going to be of any use to us at all ... he's going to have to find a way to get back to commanding the strike zone," Yost said. "Quick."

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN Wisconsin

On radio
• WTMJ 620

Up next
• Saturday: Brewers (Dave Bush, 1-4, 6.06) at Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 3-2, 4.25), 2:55 p.m. CT
• Sunday: Brewers (Carlos Villanueva, 2-4, 6.00) at Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 4-3, 4.21), 12:35 p.m. CT
• Monday: Off-day

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