(Image: AP/Morry Gash)
Two years ago today, September 23, 2011, the Brewers defeated the Florida Marlins 4-1. Combined with a Cardinals loss to the Cubs later that evening, Milwaukee clinched its first division title in nearly three decades. That game happened to be the last of my 9-pack, and it’s hard to imagine I will have a better live-sporting-event-attendance experience for the foreseeable future. I remember thinking it was pretty unlikely that game would be the clincher, but thanks to a St. Louis bullpen collapse against the Mets the previous day, I got lucky.
The game was in some ways a microcosm of the incredible 2011 season. Home runs by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder accounted for all the RBIs, Yovani Gallardo pitched a dominating 7.1 innings with 11 strikeouts, and the then untouchable K-Rod/Axford combination shut the door. When Axford struck out Bryan Petersen only moments after Alfonso Soriano’s homer in St. Louis put the Cubs ahead for good, the fans in Milwaukee were nearly delirious. If you’ve forgotten, just listen to the crowd go wild.
Surely, for some fans the memory is tainted by the knowledge Braun was under the influence of PEDs at the time he hit his iconic go-ahead homer in the eighth inning. It would be hard to argue Braun’s admitted PED use does not diminish his accomplishment. But it would also be hard to argue that PEDs can help a batter work a 3-1 count, forcing the pitcher to throw a hittable pitch up in the zone. I would suggest that anyone who can’t enjoy watching the replay because of what we know now is only (shall we say) cheating themselves.
Braun’s ignominy aside, it’s interesting to consider how much else has changed in just two years. Looking at the roster of the 2011 Brewers, the only position players that have made significant contributions in 2013 – and whose season wasn’t cut short by injuries or a suspension – are Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado (three appearances in 2011), Logan Schafer (eight appearances), and Yuniesky Betancourt. On the pitching side, it’s not hard to imagine Gallardo and Marco Estrada will both be on the team in 2014 – everyone else has moved on (not really surprising given the MLB pitching turnover rate).
As we all know, the Cardinals would have the last laugh. But on that night two years ago, it wasn’t a stretch to believe the Brewers could go to the World Series, and at the time it was goddamn exhilarating. If you have a few minutes, do yourself a favor and watch the MLB recap video. It will make you feel young again.