MILWAUKEE – Be scared. Phillies and Cardinals. Yankees and Tigers. Rays and Rangers. All the playoff teams with series tied 1-1. Be very scared of the one that hasn't lost, the group that plays amid a flurry of white towels, floats on a sea of beer and oozes swag: the Beasts of the … Midwest.
Officially, they are the Milwaukee Brewers, and they hit the Wisconsin Superfecta on Sunday night with a 9-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, who now face three must-win games to survive the National League Division Series. Milwaukee cheered the Brewers' Game 1 victory Saturday, jumped around to the University of Wisconsin running roughshod over Nebraska that night, delighted in the Green Bay Packers laying 49 points on Denver on Sunday and wrapped up one of its best sports weekends ever with the Brewers' second win.
Very quickly, they've acquired the feel of the team nobody wants to face. Big bats. High-strikeout starters. Deep bullpen. Enough of all that to compensate for questionable defense. In addition to the tangible and quantifiable, there is the energy that suffuses the Brewers, a cocktail of childlike wonderment, frat-house silliness and urgency to bring this city its first baseball title in nearly 30 years.
Granted, this series may not be the best gauge for Milwaukee's long-term staying power. The Diamondbacks couldn't hit Yovani Gallardo(notes) in Game 1, couldn't stop the Brewers from hitting in Game 2 and resemble more the product of a weak NL West than a team that can hang with Milwaukee. Still, the Brewers' two-day manhandling of Arizona at Miller Park reinforced their well-recognized qualities.
They play well at home. No. Try that again. They play damn near unbeatably at home, now 59-24, which isn't quite the '32 Yankees (62-15) or the '61 Yankees (65-16) but was far and away the best in baseball this season. Stepping into Miller Park is like entering a hall of funhouse mirrors: Everything looks wrong, and your worst characteristics get exposed even more.
Arizona's turned out more plentiful than the Brewers anticipated. Even though catcher Jonathan Lucroy(notes) had laid down so many squeeze bunts this season his teammates call him Mr. Squeeze, the Diamondbacks' plan for fielding it fell apart because, manager Kirk Gibson said, the noise in the stadium led to a miscommunication. It also forged the path of Milwaukee undressing Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler(notes) with the five-run sixth inning that regained Milwaukee the lead.
The report on Ziegler inside the Brewers' clubhouse was simple: Wait for a sinker, see it and swing, because he doesn't throw much harder than 86 mph and it's for the picking.
After Lucroy's safety squeeze and an intentional walk to Mark Kotsay(notes) to load the bases, Corey Hart(notes) hit the next pitch for a single, Nyjer Morgan(notes) slapped the one after that for a single and Ryan Braun(notes) waited for a second-pitch sinker before lining it to center field for another hit. Four sinkers, four bats on ball, four successful outcomes.
"I hope that's us," Braun said. "We're playing good baseball. It was helpful that we had to play until the last game of the season and win it to get home-field advantage. It's always good when you're playing meaningful games until the end. It's hard to turn it off and turn it on again."
It's on, all right. Milwaukee's batting order has stayed almost the same for a few months. Its relievers have fallen into familiar roles. Its starting rotation has survived the grind of a full season. Best of all, there are no major injuries, the sort of thing that causes a team to peak midseason and fade in September. Terry Francona lost his job in Boston because of them. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke, with a full roster, is outfoxing his fellow rookie skipper Gibson, the shoo-in for NL Manager of the Year.
"We came in here with 96 wins because we're a good team," Wolf said. "But there's a different type of intensity right now. On every play. On every pitch. It's been a long time since this city has been in this position. Their football team won a championship. Now they want one from their baseball team."
Wolf understands fans don't win championships. He also sees the mutual-admiration society between the Brewers and their devotees. Morgan adopts an alter ego, acts like a lunatic and they eat it up. Fielder almost certainly will leave for free agency, and instead of worrying about that they're concerned with how he's playing now.
The greatest evidence of their unconditional fandom: They've started to chant Jerry Hairston's name like audiences do at the "Jerry Springer Show": "Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!"
Yes, they're bonkers for this team, not an empty seat visible to the naked eye nor a voice fully intact by the end of their booze-soaked, brat-addled, fat-and-happy weekend festival, the sort of unadulterated sporting ribaldry a city experiences, what, maybe once a decade? Once ever quarter-century? In Cleveland's case, once every never.
Even in the ninth, when it was 9-4, they were still into every pitch: clapping along with the organ, waving those towels – the new Thunderstix, it would seem – hooting, hollering, urging John Axford(notes) once and for all to bury Paul Goldschmidt(notes). He did so with an 82-mph curveball, the pitch that completed the Superfecta and sent the Brewers off to Arizona for Game 3 Tuesday with eyes on a sweep.
For now, they were happy to flash their beast mode sign – wide arms swung inward and back out, which somehow is supposed to signify that they're monsters or beasts or something but makes them look like ornery orangutans. Nevertheless, they'll keep doing it as long as they're winning, just as the Rangers did their goofy claw-and-antler routine, which had become a meme by the World Series.
Should the Brewers keep this up, everyone around Milwaukee, from CEOs to GEDs, from college to kindergarten, will be applying beast mode to their everyday lives. Cooked a good dinner? Beast. Got a good raise at work? Beast. Unlocked a hidden level? Beast. Aced the test? Beast.
And all of this would be so over-the-top unfortunate if not for one slight detail: These Brewers really are beasts, and they should be around this October for a good, long time.
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