It took four hours and four minutes to finish the finale, but the Brewers capped their first series sweep in Cleveland in 29 years.
"That would have been a long bus ride to Detroit," said Hardy, pondering what could have been a devastating loss. "This will be a lot better now."
Hardy and Bill Hall snapped long homerless droughts and Corey Hart homered and drove in three runs for the Brewers, who came from behind in the first two games of the series and then had to hold on Wednesday.
Hart's ninth-inning home run extended the Brewers' lead to 8-4 and prompted Hoffman to stop warming in the bullpen. Instead, Seth McClung returned to the mound for a third inning in relief of Jeff Suppan, who worked eight innings and surrendered three runs and was in line to win his third straight start.
McClung retired the first hitter he faced but then walked Jamey Carroll and surrendered a Mark DeRosa double to straightaway center field that barely eluded Mike Cameron's reach. Enter Hoffman, who needed 21 pitches for his 16th save Monday. That outing came a day after he threw 26 pitches in a loss to the White Sox at Miller Park that included the first run off Hoffman after 18 scoreless appearances to begin his Brewers career.
Victor Martinez greeted Hoffman with a single that made it 8-5. Hoffman walked Shin-Soo Choo to load the bases for Ryan Garko, who emptied them with a double, but the Brewers caught a break when Garko twisted his ankle rounding second base and was out No. 2.
Hoffman escaped further damage, but the game was headed to extras after what he called "my failing."
"The overall inning was not very efficient on my part," Hoffman said. "They got balls up in the zone and they did what they were supposed to do with it. ... You can't take anything for granted in this game. That last out is important. McClung deserved a better fate, and [DiFelice] and Stetter really picked me up after my failing. It was important to come out with a win."
Garko hammered a fastball. Hoffman's signature pitch, the one so vital to his 570 career saves, has been eluding him.
"It's been a little erratic lately," Hoffman said. "I'm trying to get it back in the zone. Everything is predicated on throwing strikes, and throwing the ball up in the zone and not getting ahead of people, you're going to get hurt against big league hitters."
After reporters broke their huddle around Hoffman, McClung pulled one aside.
"I'm the one who put us in a bad position," McClung said. "I'm going to be mad about it for, like, five more minutes, and then I'm going to get on the bus and enjoy an off-day. We won the game. This is a good team, and we showed it today. The bullpen is spectacular, and I didn't get it done.
"That's on me. There have been days where I've pitched well, but today was one of those days where I didn't help the team. We overcame my mistakes, and it just kind of upsets me to see people over there talking to Hoffman. He's a stand-up guy, but the story isn't his blown save. I put him in a bad position."
Manager Ken Macha wasn't ready to bury Hoffman, who was charged with two of the runs in the inning but still sports a 1.31 ERA this season.
"He's been unbelievable," Macha said. "Let's talk about some positives."
Like DiFelice (4-0) and Stetter. The former, a right-hander, pitched a 1-2-3 10th inning before Hardy connected with the first pitch and drove home the go-ahead run against former Brewers reliever Greg Aquino. In the bottom of the 11th, DiFelice retired the first hitter but DeRosa reached on a soft single off the end of the bat. Enter the left-handed Stetter, who bobbled Martinez's slow roller and suddenly faced a two-on, one out jam. Stetter struck out Choo and Ben Francisco to end the game, notching his first Major League save and setting a club record in the process.
Stetter has recorded his last 11 outs via strikeouts. Ben Sheets set the Milwaukee record when he recorded 10 straight outs that way last July.
"They put together some good at-bats against me there, but I was able to come out on top after a lot of pitches," said Stetter, who will need Thursday's off-day after his first 20-pitch inning in exactly two months. "That would have been a tough game to lose."
The Brewers did lose left fielder Ryan Braun in the eighth inning, but Macha indicated that Braun's recurrence of lower back tightness was not serious. Braun capped a 6-for-13 series with two hits, two runs scored and an RBI.
A couple of slumping hitters made contributions that were just as notable. Hardy, who snapped an 0-for-30 stretch with a single in Monday's series opener, added two hits and two RBIs on Tuesday and two more hits and RBIs on Wednesday, including his first home run since May 8. Hall hadn't homered in 71 at-bats since May 14 and had seven hits in his last 77 at-bats before his seventh-inning blast.
Hart started coming around on Milwaukee's last homestand, when he snapped out of a 4-for-30 slump with a three-RBI game against the White Sox. Now he's hit safely in eight straight games, including a 3-for-5, three-RBI night in the finale.
"Most teams might have given up after we got out to the lead, but [the Indians] battled back," Hall said. "We finally came out on top."