MILWAUKEE -- CC Sabathia strapped a whole city to his broad shoulders and carried it to the postseason. Ryan Braun provided the last big push. That's right, Brewers fans, for the first time in 26 years, your team is October-bound.
Sabathia made his third consecutive start on three days' rest and worked all nine innings in the most clutch pitching performance in Brewers history. Braun put the team over the top, blasting a tie-breaking, two-run home run with two outs in the eighth inning for a 3-1 win over the Cubs that helped the Brewers win the National League Wild Card. That matter was settled about 30 minutes later, when the Marlins finished a 4-2 win over the Mets, giveing the Wild Card to Milwaukee and sending the thousands of fans who had remained glued to their seats at Miller Park into a frenzy. Sabathia, a free-agent-to-be acquired in July who went a remarkable 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and seven complete games in his 17 Brewers starts, drew the biggest ovation. "It's unbelievable what he has done for the guys on this team, this organization and this city," Braun said. "He's revived baseball in Milwaukee. He took whatever expectation we had and destroyed it." In front of 45,299 fans, the third-largest crowd of the season and fifth-largest in Miller Park history, Sabathia threw 122 pitches, struck out seven, scattered four hits and allowed only one unearned run. He might have thrown up a zero if not for one close call at first base. An error by first baseman Prince Fielder helped the Cubs put runners at first and third with one out in the second inning, and Ronny Cedeno hit a slow roller to shortstop J.J. Hardy. The feed to second baseman Ray Durham was clean and Durham relayed to first just as Cedeno crossed the bag. The call from first base umpire Jerry Meals was safe, and Aramis Ramirez scored the lone Cubs run. The Cubs could not move another runner into scoring position. Not bad, considering Sabathia was making his third start in nine days. "I think anybody in here healthy enough would have done the same thing.," Sabathia said. "Everybody in here, their main goal is to win. That's all I try to do." He still needed some run support. Four Cubs pitchers blanked the Brewers on only one hit through the first six innings, and Chicago took its 1-0 lead into the seventh, when Durham led off with a double. Chicago left-hander Sean Marshall intentionally walked Fielder with one out and was replaced by Michael Wuertz, who walked Hardy, struck out Corey Hart on three pitches and then walked Craig Counsell to force home the tying run. Moments after former Brewer Wes Helms and Dan Uggla hit back-to-back homers for a Marlins lead over the Mets in New York, Braun put the Brewers ahead in Milwaukee. With Mike Cameron at first base and two outs, Braun hammered the first Bob Howry (7-5) pitch he saw for his 37th home run. "Typical," Hardy said with a smile. How so? "That moment is perfect for him," Hardy said. "It's just awesome. You can't say enough about him or about CC. What those guys did today, it's downright ridiculous. It's the most fun I've ever had." Braun hit a Howry fastball. "All series, they were throwing me fastballs to get ahead and I was just looking for something to get the barrel of the bat on," Braun said. "Obviously, it worked out. I'm very comfortable in that situation. I expect to come through. Obviously, it doesn't always happen." It happened Sunday. It also happened on Thursday, when Braun delivered a grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning for a 5-1 Brewers win. "It doesn't get any better than that. It's difficult to describe," Braun said. "The grand slam the other night, that was pretty special, but this one was pretty meaningful." By that point, Sveum and pitching coach Mike Maddux were already committed to Sabathia in the ninth inning. They decided to let him hit leading off the eighth inning, and Sabathia struck out. "Dale asked me, 'What would you do?'" Maddux said. "I told him he had to ride the stallion. He was hoping I said that, because that's what he was going to do anyway. We both agreed: Big game, big moment, big man. It was the right situation." In the ninth, Sabathia retired Alfonso Soriano on a flyout before Ryan Theriot singled. That brought the tying run to the plate in the form of first baseman Derrek Lee, who could have tied the game with his 21st home run. Instead, Lee grounded to second for a game-ending double play. It was precisely the kind of performance the Brewers were hoping for when they traded with the Indians for Sabathia in July. Did it feel like he delivered? "Not yet," Sabathia said. "Until we win a championship, we still have a long way to go. But this is big for this franchise and this city. We'll just keep going hard and see what happens."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.