MILWAUKEE -- They crowded into a small dining room, away from the plastic-covered walls of the home clubhouse at Miller Park, to watch on television. Three Mets outs to go. Then two. Then one. Then, pandemonium.
Led by slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, the Brewers emerged with the National League Wild Card in hand. They wasted a few cases of champagne and then took the celebration back to the field, where tens of thousands of fans had been watching the Marlins beat the Mets on the big screen, sending the Brewers into the playoffs. Next stop, Philadelphia. The Brewers and Phillies begin a best-of-five NL Division Series on Wednesday at 2 p.m. CT. It will be Milwaukee's first playoff game since 1982. "I don't care when we did it last," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "We did it now. And it couldn't be more exciting. We're having a blast." Once the champagne dries and the confetti is cleared, interim Brewers manager Dale Sveum will have to sit down and figure out the particulars. On Sunday, picking a Game 1 starter and settling the postseason roster was the last thing on his mind. "Don't even ask me that now," Sveum said amid the celebration. Left-hander Cole Hamels (14-10, 3.09 ERA), who beat the Brewers on Sept. 13 in Philadelphia as part of a four-game Phillies sweep, will start opposite somebody for Milwaukee. Since the fabulous CC Sabathia pitched a complete game on Sunday to put the Brewers in the postseason, he will not be available until Game 2 at the absolute earliest.
A trio of Brewers right-handers appear to be front-runners for Game 1. Yovani Gallardo might be the leading candidate, though he worked just four innings on Thursday in his return from right knee surgery. Dave Bush is another, though he threw 43 pitches in relief on Saturday. Or, Sveum could go with experience and use Jeff Suppan, who would be on regular rest and is 5-2 with a 3.00 ERA in nine career postseason starts.
Working against Suppan is the fact that he went 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA in five starts in September. He was knocked out of a Sept. 14 start in Philadelphia after two innings.
General manager Doug Melvin said the baseball staff would convene Monday to make some decisions. The team will take part in "Rally Monday" at the Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee beginning at 5 p.m. CT, then will travel to Philadelphia.
The pitchers were lining up Sunday to declare themselves available.
"Who wouldn't be," Bush said. "We have a couple of days to figure all of that out. We're just excited about this right now."
Said Gallardo: "If they give me the opportunity, I'll be glad to. The next day after I pitched I had normal soreness and nothing more than that. Other than that, my body feels great."
The Brewers, who lost five of six games against the Phillies this season, will not be able to count on Ben Sheets. The right-hander, a Brewer since 2001, longer than any other current player, said again Sunday that the pain in his right elbow almost certainly would not let him pitch.
Sheets had some tears in his eyes while the team celebrated on the field. Maybe it was the champagne in his eyes.
"I'll have to be a cheerleader for a while," Sheets said. "It's got to be fun, because I've got no choice. It don't look good, but you never know."
Pitching issues are nothing new for the Brewers under Sveum, who decided on the first day he took over from Ned Yost as manager to move left-hander Manny Parra to the bullpen. Sveum never counted on losing Sheets, though he had been receiving treatment on his elbow.
With Sheets down and Parra out, the Brewers' list of probable pitchers over the final week of the regular season was dotted with initials: CC and TBA, as in, "to be announced."
"It's been an absolute jigsaw puzzle," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "We've had some injuries here and there, and we have a pitching staff that lost it's horse. It's been tough, man."
Only seven days earlier, the Brewers appeared dazed, confused and on the way home for October. They were 2 1/2 games behind the Mets, three back in the loss column, with only six games to play.
Then came a 5-1 homestand while the Mets lost six of their final nine games.
On Sunday, the ride seemed worth it.
"I know what it means to this city," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who delivered two game-winning home runs this week, including Sunday's go-ahead, two-run shot. "I know what they have gone through for the last 25 years and what they went through for the first three weeks of this month.
"To me, the postseason began a week ago. We had to win all of these games just to get here."
|"To me, the postseason began a week ago. We had to win all of these games just to get here."|
|-- Ryan Braun|
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.