by Tim Muma
The potent chill of the autumn air blended harmoniously with the ever-present feel of nervousness, intensity and anticipation of a special Friday night in Milwaukee.
From Yovani Gallardo's first pitch at Miller Park to the final out of a game some 320 miles away, to a victory lap by Prince Fielder nearly two hours after the game's conclusion, more than 44,000 fans hung onto every moment as long as they could.
The Brewers' playoff berth in 2008 was special in its own right - and many thought the jubilation of that last-day clincher to break a long postseason drought could never be equaled - yet, 2011 took longtime Brewers' fans like myself into another stratosphere, somewhere beyond the Miller Park roof.
I was just a few months old when the Crew last won a division crown in '82. I've lived and died with every Milwaukee team for as long as I can remember - a Pepsi fan club member at the age of 2. My fanaticism has never wavered, through awful teams, average squads and a couple of groups that made it all worthwhile - especially this one.
Some thought the Brewers' shouldn't get too excited about winning a division title when the goal should be much larger. Others still believe the team has little chance of reaching the World Series and will suffer greatly with the departure of Fielder.
As I sat and stood in the stands for nearly 5 hours with my wife (who I owe big time for buying the tickets on a whim!), I witnessed an unbelievable amount of pure joy and elation fill the stadium - players, coaches, fans, security - everyone was soaking in an unadulterated flood of emotions. So, really, who cares what anyone thinks about "the future," Friday night was a "live in the now" event.
The game had all the makings of postseason drama, with the added bonus of scoreboard watching. A sizable cheer emerged as the Cubs tied St. Louis at 1 as the knowledgeable fans knew exactly what to watch for.
Superb pitching by Gallardo (homegrown), becoming the 1st Brewers pitcher with 3 straight 10+ strikeout games. A turning point-type diving catch and double play by Ryan Braun (homegrown). A 2-strike, rally-killing performance by Francisco Rodriguez, displaying the type of emotion normally saved for a closer - but this was just as big.
And of course, Braun, doing what he does. With chants of "MVP" echoing throughout the park, he delivered the big blow once again - just like he did in '08, just like he did on the last homestand, just like he did the game after he signed the long contract extension. Saying he has a flair for the dramatic is a major understatement.
The sheer sound of the roaring fans reverberating around the stadium had no equal.
Then the Cubs' took a 4-1 lead in St. Louis, sparking a random outburst between pitches. The exuberance as John Axford slammed the door drove the volume up another notch, as the entire state (and beyond) could sense the next and final step for the division championship.
For once, the "Let's go Cubbies!" chants sounded good, and Brewers' fans - only temporarily - loved something from Chicago. For the second time in less than an hour, we all exploded for a 27th out - and for the second time since the early 80's, the Brewers were champions of something.
I've never experienced anything like the thrill ride of Friday night. Baseball is my love and passion outside of my family, so nothing in the sporting world can match the intensity - even the Packers winning the Super Bowl.
The players and coaches deserved to go crazy, there's no rule about celebrating only once. It's extremely difficult to win a division crown and an amazing accomplishment - that's why it hasn't been done here in so long.
I can't even imagine what an NLCS or World Series might sound or feel like, but for now, I'm going to enjoy the ride - until the final out.
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