Deja Brew: '82 to '08, Milwaukee ready

Deja Brew: Milwaukee ready

MILWAUKEE -- Miller Park will be rocking, just like the Brewers' former home stadium was 26 years ago, the last time the franchise played host to a playoff game.

"We played well at home," recalls Cecil Cooper, now the manager of the division-rival Houston Astros, recalling his triumphant time as a player, as a feared wallbanger for Milwaukee, then an American League ballclub that advanced to the World Series. "People were always there for us."

People most certainly were. Fans have a funny way of helping a team rediscover its swagger. So does clutch hitting. So does effective pitching. And luck. It snowballs, and it can last an entire October or end just shy of the mountaintop.

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Which brings us to this year's National League Division Series between the Brewers and the Philadelphia Phillies, champions of the NL East. Sure, the Brewers are cast as the Rocky, the Wild Card, down, 0-2, after opening the postseason in the City of Brotherly Love. So?

These Brewers have had their backs to the wall before.

Heck, two weeks ago, nobody outside Wisconsin thought they'd even be in the playoffs (not to mention those in state who had their doubts).

Yet, the Brew Crew got smokin' hot at just the right time, rallying, making Miller Park among the loudest, proudest venues in baseball that last week of this regular season, as it had been for much of the summer.

Today, Milwaukee finds itself on the brink of ouster. Kind of like the Brewers were in the AL playoffs in 1982.

Many people around here remember the painful way that postseason ended. But just as important now, they shouldn't forget what made it all possible.

In 1982, the Brewers had to defeat the Orioles on the final day of the regular season to win the AL East. And like the 2008 Brewers, Milwaukee was trailing (the Angels were the opponent back then) 2-0 in the then best-of-five ALCS before roaring back to win the final three games and their prized lone pennant.

1982 ALCS at a glance
Game ResultSite
1Angels 8, Brewers 3Anaheim
2Angels 4, Brewers 2Anaheim
3Brewers 5, Angels 3Milwaukee
4Brewers 9, Angels 3Milwaukee
6Brewers 4, Angels 3Milwaukee

"That comeback against the Angels was one of the most dramatic things I've ever seen," Bud Selig, owner of the Brewers back then and Major League Baseball Commissioner now, was saying on the eve of Saturday's game. And the 74-year-old Selig has seen a lot of dramatic baseball events in his life.

That age-old comeback in the ALCS is a legacy for this year's team and offers them hope, even if only as proof it has been done before.

"Yeah, it's an uphill battle now," said Don Money, a bench player in '82 and the Double-A manager in the Milwaukee system now. "But they've got some good players here. These guys won 90 games during the season, and they're capable of turning it around just like anybody else."

The 1982 and 2008 teams had several other curious similarities.

Both clubs had in-season managerial changes -- Buck Rodgers to Harvey Kuenn and Ned Yost to Dale Sveum. Both acquired an ace midseason who later clinched a postseason spot with a win on the last day of the season in Don Sutton and CC Sabathia. And both lost key pitchers to arm injuries in September: Rollie Fingers then and Ben Sheets now.

Cue the Twilight Zone music. Or don't.

"This sounds all well and good, but it means nothing to these guys in our clubhouse," said Robin Yount, the Hall of Fame shortstop on the 1982 team and the bench coach now. "It's not anything we think about. That makes for good print. I think they've heard enough about '82, and I don't blame them. They've created their own identity here."

That identity can be enhanced by repeating another comeback from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five series.

The playoff format was different back then, with one team hosting the first two games and the other hosting the final three. Under the format now, if the Brewers should take the next two games at home Saturday and Sunday, they'd have to play Game 5 on Tuesday back in Philadelphia, where they've lost six in a row -- but on the bright side, they'd presumably have Sabathia pitching.

The '82 team, meanwhile, played the final three games at a raucous County Stadium, once located in the parking lot just adjacent to state-of-the-art Miller Park.

That year, after winning the head-to-head battle with the Orioles for the division title on the final weekend, the Brewers went to the West Coast to play a highly-rated Angels team, which swamped them in the first two games at what was then called Anaheim Stadium.

"To go from that emotional weekend out to Anaheim, there was certainly a letdown to some degree -- and the Angels took it to us in the first two games," said Paul Molitor, another Hall of Famer and third baseman on that 1982 Brewers team. "I think that all of us tried to rally around the fact that we had an excellent record at home.

"The format was 2-3, not 2-2-1. We just kind of decided that if we could build a little momentum and win the first game, then really anything could happen."

Like now, that 95-win Brewers team took the losses in stride. Despite their games in Philadelphia, the Brewers' clubhouse at Miller Park on Friday seemed fairly loose. Music blared, and most players were at their lockers to converse at length with reporters.

No one seemed tense. There was no doom and gloom or overt signs of frustration. Kind of like '82.

"Sure, you're depressed," said Money about being in such a deep hole. "We weren't scoring runs, and we all knew we were capable of scoring runs. But I don't remember that flight back being like a morgue or anything like that. We all played cards, pinochle. We had a good time. Of course we were depressed, but you can't let that affect you. You have to just go out and play the next day's game."

Then the series began to change.

The Brewers won Game 3 behind Sutton, and Molitor hit a homer. In Game 4, Angels manager Gene Mauch opted to start Tommy John on three days' rest. John didn't make it through the fourth inning, and the Brewers won again. The mood at the old park had reached new levels of euphoria.

"We had our home fans and that was a big thing for us back in the day," said Cooper, the first baseman on that team. "That was good."


"I think the circumstances for Milwaukee this year are a little different than they were for us. Yes, they are coming home for two. They just have to try to get back into the series by winning Game 3 at home. That's all they can really do right now."
-- 1982 Brewer Paul Molitor

There was no stopping the Brewers in Game 5. Cooper had the big hit, singling home two runs in the seventh to snap a 2-2 tie. In lieu of the injured Fingers, Pete Ladd came on in the ninth with none out and a runner on base to protect a 4-2 lead. A sacrifice bunt and a groundout later, Ladd found himself facing Rod Carew with the game and the pennant on the line.

"People can tell you that that fifth game was the loudest they've ever heard a stadium. I mean, it was unbelievable," Selig said. "I couldn't believe the way it came down at the end. I remember thinking to myself, 'I've waited all these years, why can't it be somebody else? Why does it have to be the great Rod Carew?'"

Carew belted a shot to Yount at short. Yount fielded it and threw to Cooper for the final out. And like last Sunday, when Sabathia induced the Cubs' Derrek Lee to hit a double-play grounder to second baseman Ray Durham, the fans went wild.

Those '82 AL champion Brewers actually led the Cardinals three games to two in the World Series, heading back to St. Louis. The Redbirds won the title in seven games.

"It just tore me apart," Selig said, reliving the twists, the turns, the thrills and the reality that only one winner survives. "I know people think it's exciting, and it is, but boy, it wears you out."

How long did it take Selig to get over the the eventual '82 result after it was over?

"A couple of months," he said.

The postseason can lead to heartbreak, to be sure, but the ride, all who've taken part will tell you, without fail, is well worth it. One never knows how these things end until they're actually concluded. The secret is to try to enjoy all of it as it unfolds.

That's not always easy to do for those closest to the action. Only one team, after all, that earns entry in the postseason derby finishes it off with the sweet taste of victory.

Through the haze of time, it's impractical to assume the accomplishments of the '82 team are directly inspiring this year's squad. But as strange as it might seem, the 2008 Brewers have a chance to write a little bit of history that would give local historians some comforting sense of deja vu. It can all begin with a single win on Saturday.

"I think the circumstances for Milwaukee this year are a little different than they were for us," Molitor said. "Yes, they are coming home for two. They just have to try to get back into the series by winning Game 3 at home. That's all they can really do right now."

But this much we know. Milwaukee will be rocking. Why? Because this is a city that brings loud, emphatic energy to this stage when it arrives.

The wait has been long, and Brewers fans would like nothing more than to extend the experience. That means winning. Once. Postseason baseball is back in Milwaukee. This could get interesting.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.