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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Once also-rans at Miller Park, Brewers now win to roaring crowds


Milwaukee's dugout welcomes Yuniesky Betancourt after his two-run homer in the fifth innning. (AP)  
Milwaukee's dugout welcomes Yuniesky Betancourt after his two-run homer in the fifth innning. (AP)  

MILWAUKEE -- Three pitches. Boom, boom, and ka-BOOM! Good morning, good afternoon and good night. You've heard about Milwaukee's thunder?

Three pitches, and the Brewers took the fifth ... and then the first. Game 1 of this National League Championship Series in the keg, 9-6. You've seen Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in action? Not like this, you haven't. Not at this time of year.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin says his biggest job when he took over as Milwaukee general manager in 2002 was to make the team more popular than the in-game Sausage Races. Sounds funny now, but he isn't kidding.

"That was a very tough goal," Melvin was saying before Game 1 of the Brewers' best chance to land a World Series in 29 years.

NLCS: Cardinals at Brewers
Scott Miller Scott Miller
The Brewers are too quick for Tony La Russa and the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS. Read >>
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Now look at them.

The Italian and the Polish Sausages have never heard the cheers Braun did when he homered, doubled and knocked in four teammates in the Brewers' first LCS game in 29 years.

The Chorizo and the Bratwurst can only hope to soak in the love showered on Prince Fielder when he drilled a laser over the fence in that wild fifth to jackhammer the Brewers ahead of St. Louis for good.

"It's been incredible," Braun said. "It's really been electric. The atmosphere here is really something that we feed off of."

The smallest market in the majors is consistently coming up large. More popular than the Sausage Races? The Brewers now have drawn three million fans in three of the past four years. And the noise the latest sellout crowd of 43,613 brought Sunday was worth its weight in the rowdy "MVP! MVP!" chants for Braun alone.

"I think the fans are enjoying it as much as we are, playing meaningful baseball games [on Oct. 9]," Braun said.

Game 1 of this series was far more important to Milwaukee than to St. Louis, because the Brewers are out of their minds at home (now 61-27 this season), Zack Greinke is their Miller Park rabbit's foot (he's now 12-0 in starts here this season and the team is 17-0) and Game 2 starter Shaun Marcum hasn't had his "A" stuff lately.

Up one, the Brewers have some wiggle room.

Down one, its hold-your-breath time.

Looked like the latter when a not-sharp Greinke hung a 73 mph curve to David Freese in the fourth, which the Cardinals third baseman promptly crushed for a three-run home run, trumping Braun's two-run homer in the first and handing St. Louis a 4-2 lead.

Then came the fifth, Corey Hart's leadoff base hit and Jerry Hairston Jr. then working a 2 and 2 count against St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia.

Then. ...

Boom! Double, runners on second and third.

Very next pitch. ...

Boom! Braun crushed a two-run, ground-rule double.

Very next pitch. ...

Ka-BOOM! Fielder practically sent the baseball to Green Bay.

Three pitches. Keg tapped.

"One of the hardest-hit balls I've ever seen," Braun marveled. "I'm always worried when I'm on first base and Prince is up that he's going to top-spin one at me.

"I had a good view of it. It got out in a hurry."

Quick? Fielder's homer, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, rifled through the Wisconsin evening at 119.2 m.p.h. off the bat. The highest recorded speed for any home run hit in 2011.

An entire city climbed aboard for the ride.

"It felt good," Fielder said.

Now look at them.

Most important hardball around here in three decades, and Braun and Fielder are lifting the Brewers higher and higher.

"I'll tell you what," Hairston, the 14-year veteran, said. "Brauny is a great player. Probably the best compliment I can give him is that he reminds me of a young Edgar Martinez. But he's a better athlete."

Braun's four RBI were a Brewers' single-game postseason record. The guy now is batting .500 (11 for 22) with five doubles, two homers, eight RBI and seven runs scored in six postseason games this autumn.

Fielder's three homers against Arizona and St. Louis tie Ted Simmons and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor for the most postseason homers in Brewers history.

"Besides being great players, they have fun, man," Hairston said. "We don't want to be too demonstrative and show anybody up, but we have to play that way.

"We tried to calm it down earlier in the year and we lost four in a row."

The demonstrations didn't set off the Cardinals this time. But things were on high alert from nearly the beginning, when a wild Garcia drilled Fielder with a pitch in the first inning. Plate umpire Gary Darling immediately warned both dugouts, though the Brewers did not think Garcia was throwing at their heavyweight in that situation.

Nothing further happened, and Hairston made it clear the Brewers hold the Cardinals in the highest regard.

"You can ask anybody, when they got into the playoffs, we said, 'We're going to see the Cardinals'," Hairston said of a club that was matched against the potent Phillies in the Division Series.

Hairston explained about the Cardinals' pitching, their overall talent and that, "anytime you have Albert Pujols on your team, you're not the underdog."

No. But anytime you have Braun and Fielder, you can't lose, either.

These Brewers laugh, they hoop, they holler. And man, as we saw in that fifth, they go from zero to "Beast Mode" in seconds flat.

Hairston scored on Braun's double. Then Fielder sprung into action so quickly, Hairston didn't even see it.

"Actually, I went to go get a drink and I heard the crowd," he said.

He had just grabbed a Gatorade in the tunnel behind the Milwaukee dugout when the roar reverberated. Soon as he heard it, he ran back toward the dugout. But, by then, Fielder already was circling the bases.

You kidding? Hairston can't out-run 119.2 m.p.h. off the bat.

So mark it down. In their first LCS game in 29 years, the Brewers set a land-speed record in leaping out to a lead over the Cardinals, retaining their all-important home-field advantage and convincing their believing fans that the World Series is just three victories from returning to Milwaukee for the first time since 1982.

Not bad, for a first cold draft.


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