Braun did not just keep Milwaukee's postseason hopes alive. He grabbed the paddles and delivered a jolt to 40,102 fans in the house for Fan Appreciation Night and thousands more watching and listening at home, pulling madly for Milwaukee to play meaningful games in October for the first time since 1982.
"I couldn't have picked a bigger situation," Braun said. "There's no greater feeling in the world than hitting a walk-off homer, especially in a big situation like that."
The Mets also won in walk-off fashion Thursday, beating the Cubs, 7-6, at Shea Stadium. At 88-71, the Brewers and Mets are tied for the Wild Card entering the final weekend series of the regular season, and the Mets are only one game behind the Phillies in the NL East.
List Braun's blast among the most meaningful home runs in Brewers history, including two key shots late in the '82 season. Ned Yost, who until last week was Milwaukee's manager, clubbed a three-run, game-winning homer over Boston's Green Monster 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. On the final day, Robin Yount took Jim Palmer deep in the first inning in Baltimore to send the Brewers to a 10-2 win and the division crown.
The Brewers have not been to the postseason promised land since. If Braun & Co. get there, his slam will be one of the signature hits.
"He got a big monkey off his back, there's no doubt about that," said acting Brewers manager Dale Sveum, whose 1987 Easter Sunday home run also deserves a place on the list. "There's a young man hitting in the third spot in a playoff race, he feels the weight on his shoulders and obviously he hasn't been coming through much. To come through in that kind of fashion, in that kind of game, knowing the Mets had already won, that's huge for a young man like that."
The Mets' win was in the books when Rickie Weeks led off the bottom of the 10th inning against Pirates right-hander Jesse Chavez (0-1) with a single under the second baseman's glove. Weeks moved up on a bunt -- the Brewers' first runner in scoring position since the fourth inning -- and an intentional walk to Ray Durham and an unintentional one to Craig Counsell loaded the bases with two outs for Braun to win the game.
Bill Hall drove in the other Brewers run, and seven relievers combined for six scoreless innings in relief of starter Yovani Gallardo, who pitched four innings in his first game since right knee surgery. Left-hander Mitch Stetter (3-1) took the win after striking out Pirates All-Star Nate McLouth with a runner at second base in the top of the 10th inning.
Braun's 36th home run this season was only his second in his last 116 plate appearances and his sixth since Aug. 9, when he first left a game with strained muscles at the back of his rib cage.
He has mostly kept quiet about the extent of the injury, but the results have been clear. His production has been cut from 30 home runs and 84 RBIs in 464 at-bats before the injury to six homers and 20 RBIs in 138 at-bats since. He batted .300 before the injury and is hitting .239 since.
"Honestly, this is the most frustrating thing I've ever been through as a baseball player," said Braun, breaking his silence. "I'm never making excuses to justify my performances, but physically, I have been unable to do what I'm used to be doing. It's obviously very frustrating, and luckily we have No. 28 on our team, because he has been carrying us."
No. 28 is first baseman Prince Fielder, who went 2-for-4 Thursday to extend a 15-game hitting streak, and was on-deck when Braun ended the game.
"I haven't got close to feeling comfortable, or where I was prior to the injury," Braun said. "It's just one of those things you deal with. You have to find a way to compensate and contribute.
"It's hard, because it's one thing just to struggle. I've been times like that before. But when I'm physically unable to do what I'm used to doing, that's a feeling I've never experienced before. I'm getting pitches that normally I drive, but I'm popping them up or groundout out because I can't stay on the ball, I can't stay through the ball, I'm not explosive through the ball."
Even amid the adrenaline rush Thursday night, Braun conceded that while he is not in pain, his body is subconsciously compensating for the tightness in his back and he is "nowhere close to 100 percent."
Ditto for Gallardo, who delivered four solid innings barely four months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. Gallardo pitched only a series of simulated games before taking the mound to a standing ovation against the Pirates, and but for one misplaced pitch to Pittsburgh right fielder Steve Pearce, he delivered just what the Brewers were looking for.
Gallardo worked around a pair of hits in the first inning with the first two of his seven strikeouts, and whiffed five consecutive batters in the second and third innings. Pearce hit a home run with one out in the fourth inning that tied the game at 1. Gallardo escaped with the tie in place when he induced a Ronny Paulino double play to end the inning.
"Other than [the home run], I was hitting my spots and my velocity was good," said Gallardo, who would not admit that he tired in the fourth inning after throwing 67 pitches. "I haven't pitched in four months, so I knew I would have a pitch count, I wasn't going to be able to go all-out. I was happy with the way I threw today."
Said Sveum: "He pitched awesome tonight. It looked like he got a little tired at the 60-pitch count, but he got a big double-play ground ball to get out of it and he did his job."