After a 6-1 lead slipped away from Milwaukee, Fielder's ninth-inning shot off losing pitcher Todd Wellemeyer (7-10) gave the Brewers a 7-6 lead for lights-out closer Trevor Hoffman (3-2), who had walked only 11 batters all season before issuing three in a row in the ninth. Cardinals second baseman Julio Lugo tied the game with an RBI groundout, barely beating what would have been a game-ending double play, but the Crew answered in the top of the 10th with two more runs.
Jody Gerut delivered the go-ahead run with an infield single to Lugo, who was slow to get the ball out of his glove. Braun added insurance with a double that dropped in front of left fielder Matt Holliday, who was battling the sun.
The Brewers finished 80-82, good for third place in the NL Central behind the division-champion Cardinals and the Cubs.
"The thing that jumps out at me is 80 wins, and teams were clinching stuff with 90 wins," said Hoffman, who notched the win when rookie John Axford converted his first Major League save. "Can you pick up 10 games throughout a season? A game and a half a month? That's why every pitch, every out, every inning are important."
The Brewers will need to improve the pitching in front of Hoffman to make it happen, and change is already afoot. General manager Doug Melvin announced Sunday morning that he didn't offer 2010 contracts to interim pitching coach Chris Bosio or bullpen coach Stan Kyles, and Melvin will spend much of his offseason trying to fix a pitching staff that posted the second-worst ERA in the National League.
Unlike last year, Melvin has changes to make to the lineup, too. Center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall are free agents who were just as important to the Brewers off the field as on it, and shortstop J.J. Hardy expects to be traded after a five-year run with the team.
"Look, the reality is that when you're a mid- or small-market team, you have to take advantage of having guys in that pre-free agency range where you can have them at a relatively affordable rate," Braun said. "Everybody is starting to make more money. The reality is, Prince will probably only be here one or two more years.
"It's a small window for us to win. We're not the Yankees or the Red Sox, where you can have a $200 million payroll. ... You have to take advantage of that window and win while guys are affordable. That's why you have to go for it every chance you get. You go all-in, that's my opinion. The goal shouldn't be to make the playoffs, it should be to win the World Series. You saw how much getting to the playoffs meant to the city of Milwaukee [in 2008], and I can only imagine what it would be like to win a World Series.
"To me, that has to be the goal, and the reality is they have to go for it in the next year or two, because at that point everybody will be free agents and too expensive to keep."
The Brewers will watch this year's World Series on television, but at least they ended their season on a high note on a milestone-filled Sunday afternoon:
Jeff Suppan made a courtesy start on short rest -- allowing a run on two hits in two innings -- for his 11th consecutive 30-start season. The only active pitcher with a longer streak is Livan Hernandez, who has made 30 starts in 12 straight seasons.
Casey McGehee singled in the second inning to push his season batting average back over .300, to .301. He was lifted in the bottom of the frame in favor of Mat Gamel to avoid falling back below, and said he appreciated the gesture from manager Ken Macha.
Braun, who on Saturday became the fourth Milwaukee player to reach the 200-hit plateau, became the third Brewers player to lead his league in hits and the first since Paul Molitor led the American League in 1991.
Fielder ran his franchise-record RBI total to 141 and his franchise-record walks total to 110, and his 46 homers were the second-most in a season in Brewers history to Fielder's own 50-homer 2007. He's the first Milwaukee player to lead the league in RBIs since Cecil Cooper tied Boston's Jim Rice for the AL crown in 1983.
"It's a cool way to end it," said Fielder, who was denied a chance for the outright RBI title and a chance to finish with a .300 average when he was intentionally walked in the 10th. "It's great on a personal level, but it's about winning, and hopefully I'll be able to do well next year and we'll win. Hopefully, next year we'll have a better season as a whole."
It's Melvin's job to build the Brewers better for 2010. He will spend the winter trying to bolster the pitching staff.
"We still have a lot of good players on this team, and I think we know where we have to try to get a boost," Melvin said. "It won't be easy."