Do-or-die came early in Milwaukee
Brewers played end of season with postseason intensity
PHILADELPHIA -- Talk about pressure. To the Brewers, it isn't facing the Phillies in the National League Division Series that opens at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday afternoon.
The real testament to the resolve of the club came in the two weeks leading up to the franchise's first playoff trip since 1982.
When the Brewers last were in Philadelphia, their season looked as if it was going to bottom out after they dropped four straight. The low point came on Sept. 14, when they were swept in a doubleheader.
So disheartening was the series, which put the Brewers a game behind the Phillies in the Wild Card standings, that Ryan Braun declared: "This series was a complete and total disaster."
The direction of the club turned on Sept. 15, when Milwaukee made a managerial change, replacing Ned Yost with third-base coach Dale Sveum. Things didn't get immediately better, as on the morning of Sept. 21, Milwaukee was 2 1/2 games back of the Mets in the Wild Card standings with seven games remaining.
"We were basically in a playoff game every day for the last week, and they came through with flying colors," Sveum said.
As fate would have it, the Brewers are riding high, having won six of their last seven, as they return to Philadelphia, the place of their recent low.
"It was definitely a roller coaster," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "We had our ups. We had our downs. All of September was a struggle. Now that we're here, we can put it all behind us. I think it's taken a lot off of our backs. All the pressure is gone."
So many of the Brewers had experienced adversity together even before they reached the big leagues.
Brewers' NLDS roster
|Tony Gwynn Jr.||Outfielder||L||R|
"A lot of us came up through the Minor Leagues together. A lot of us went to the playoffs in the Minor Leagues," Hardy said. "I know it's not the same, but I think it's all about believing in one another. I think that's what it was. We just never gave up.
"None of us really lost confidence. I think we knew we were a good team and we didn't want it to get away from us, and we had time to start playing better baseball."
Changing managers. Moving Mike Cameron to the leadoff spot, and Hardy to the five hole. Corey Hart dropping one place to sixth.
The changes worked, and the team found the resolve to fight until the end.
"It was definitely a surprise," pitcher Dave Bush said of changing managers so late. "We had just finished the series here, and I stayed around Philadelphia to be with my parents, so I wasn't even in Chicago when it happened. I found out second-hand. At that time, we were all still trying to figure out what was going on.
"That's the decision that was made, and there are personnel decisions made around here all the time. We all wish the best for Ned, and we wish he could be here. The fact of the matter is that after that day we just had to move on and try to win games. It's certainly been up and down for us."
Swapping managers didn't produce immediate results as the Brewers lost Sveum's first game in control -- 5-4 to the Cubs on Sept. 16. They also dropped four of their first five under his direction.
"It wasn't a very pleasant experience. But, obviously, my life changed," Sveum said. "It's definitely been a whirlwind."
Sept. 21 started a five-game winning streak for the Brewers, who qualified as the Wild Card team on the last game after they beat the Cubs, 3-1, and the Marlins eliminated the Mets, 4-2.
"[Wednesday] is pretty much a cakewalk compared to what they just went through," Sveum said.
In a dramatic final week, the Brewers displayed their home run clout. Braun had a flare for the timely blast all season, and he came through in a big way with a walk-off grand slam to beat the Pirates on Sept. 25. And in the season finale, the score was locked at 1 before Braun belted a two-run shot in the eighth inning.
Mixed in was Prince Fielder's two-run walk-off homer to beat the Pirates on Sept. 23.
"We were so good all year long. We had basically three really bad weeks, and that kind of put us in a fight mode to where we had to go out there and win every game or we weren't going to be here," Hart said. "So we just turned it around. New manager. New philosophy, basically. We were able to overcome it.
"We had so many rough moments in this clubhouse. It's rewarding. We're happy to be here, but at the same point, we're not done yet."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.