The teams' first 161 games settled nothing. It will all come down to Sunday.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride," Sveum said. "But when we started, if somebody said, 'If you're tied after Game 161, would you take it?' Thirty teams would have done that."
Hopes of closing it out Saturday were dashed early, when Johan Santana pitched New York to a quick 2-0 win over Florida at Shea Stadium. That game was over before Sheets threw his first pitch at Miller Park.
So the best the Brewers could do was clinch at least a tie for the Wild Card with a win over the Cubs. Ted Lilly had something to say about that.
Lilly (17-9) started for Chicago and did not allow the first Brewers hit until the seventh inning, when Ryan Braun led off with a double. By that time, the Cubs had built a 4-0 lead on Sheets, who pitched for the first time since revealing a right elbow injury on Sept. 17 and lasted only 2 1/3 innings.
The Brewers scored later in the seventh and really rallied in the eighth against Jason Marquis and two more Cubs relievers, getting as close as 4-3 with the bases loaded and one out.
They never got closer, and three Cubs runs off Salomon Torres in the ninth put the gagme out of reach and spoiled an afternoon for at least half of the 45,288 fans in the stands. The fifth-largest crowd in Miller Park history pushed the Brewers' season attendance above three million for the first time.
"We've got a big game [Sunday], and we're set up to make the playoffs, still."
-- Ben Sheets
"It's disappointing, because we came to the stadium today thinking we had a chance to clinch this," Torres said. "But we're not the only ones who have a say in this race. The Mets did a good job of winning, and we lost today. We're back to square one."
Sheets touched 92 mph on the radar gun but was clearly not the same pitcher who started for the NL in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in July. He served up a two-run home run to Daryle Ward in the first inning and went on to allow four runs, three earned, on five Cubs hits.
All week it was unclear whether Sheets would be able to pitch. He did not regret the decision to try, but certainly regretted the results.
"I thought I could make some pitches and get us five or six quality innings," Sheets said. "I wouldn't have taken the ball if I thought I would go one or two innings. Things just weren't lined up for me to get through them five today.
"We've got a big game [Sunday]," he added, "And we're set up to make the playoffs, still."
Mark DiFelice cleaned up Sheets' mess in the third inning before Sveum made the curious decision to use Dave Bush for three innings starting in the fourth. That move left the Brewers with no good option to start a potential one-game playoff against the Mets on Monday.
Sveum and his coaching staff were meeting Saturday night to determine who could go for the Brewers if a 163rd game is needed to determine the NL Wild Card winner. Bush could be an option, though he threw 43 pitches on Saturday. Sveum mentioned Yovani Gallardo, who would be a somewhat stunning choice considering he threw four innings Thursday in his first start since knee surgery and would be pitching on three days' rest, not to mention he is the organization's most promising young pitcher. Friday's hero, Seth McClung, would also almost certainly see work in that game.
"Who knows," Sveum said. "We'll just have to see what pans out. There's a good chance it will be mix-and-match the whole game anyway."
The Brewers might have felt better aligned had they finished Saturday's comeback. Craig Counsell and Prince Fielder hit RBI singles in the eighth inning, and Milwaukee had the bases loaded with one out against Michael Wuertz and the Nos. 5-6 hitters coming to the plate. Hardy hit a ground ball to third base for a force out at the plate, and Corey Hart hit a fielder's choice grounder to shortstop to end the threat.
Hardy's at-bat was the killer.
"He's a half an inch from hitting a double down the line," hitting coach Jim Skaalen said. "It was a quality pitch. I went and looked at it. It broke late, and it broke hard. It was unfortunate."
Whatever good feelings were created in that inning were gone in the ninth, when Torres surrendered an infield hit and a two-run home run to Kosuke Fukudome before recording an out. One more run would score -- charged to Torres -- before the inning was over.
Torres has appeared in 383 games since 2004, most in the Majors. He has pitched in a team-high 71 games this season and has surrendered a home run in three of his past six appearances.
"He's not complaining of anything [physically wrong]," Sveum said. "He gets the ball up every once in a while, and lately he's been getting hit. For his success to happen, he's a sinkerball guy and he needs to keep the ball down. Every mistake he seems to make right now is getting hit, and it's not getting hit at a guy."
Torres conceded that he is a bit worn down.
"I've been trying to do too much with what I don't have right now," Torres said. "I don't have 94, 95 [mph]. I have to do what I can with 88, 89. But this game is over with. We have a chance to do something good [on Sunday]."