MILWAUKEE – They skew kind in the Midwest, people offering blessings to sneezers and smiling at strangers, so as tempting as it was to gloat and guffaw at the failings of their enemies, they instead chose to celebrate their own successes.
Postsesason baseball returned to Milwaukee the same day it ended for its neighbors 90 miles south, and it did so in triumphant fashion, the Brewers saving their season with a 4-1 victory against the Philadelphia Phillies, who still hold a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five National League Division Series. While one streak died – Milwaukee's drought without hosting a playoff game ended at 26 years – another reached its 100th birthday, the Chicago Cubs flaming out in a three-game sweep against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Brewers lasted longer than the Cubs.
Think about that. The Brewers, who were in fifth place 50 games into the season, who were choking so bad they fired their manager with 13 games to go, who are here as much thanks to the ineptitude of the Mets as themselves. Yes, those Brewers will play Game 4 this afternoon against a Philadelphia team that likewise seems intent on gifting Milwaukee a prayer.
How otherwise to explain the disappearing act perpetuated by the heart of Philadelphia's batting order for the second consecutive postseason? As bad as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell were in a sweep by Colorado last year – somewhere between Michael Jackson and the surnamed News Bears – they've been worse this season. Four hits in 28 at-bats, 10 consecutive hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position and nary an answer to remedy it.
"I don't know," Howard said.
"I don't know what you do about it," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel added.
"I don't know, either," thirded Phillies infielder Greg Dobbs.
Well, we know that they know that they don't know. And when no one knows, that's a no-no.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, knew that it needed a victory to sate the 43,992 at Miller Park, including commissioner Bud Selig, the former Brewers owner who admitted the slightest bias toward his hometown team.
They scored twice in the first inning off 45-year-old starter Jamie Moyer, who either forgot to take his afternoon nap or realized he was late for the early-bird special, added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth and seventh innings, and let the Phillies' hitters take care of the rest.
"We're not having trouble at all," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "We've scored nine runs in the series, which is three a game."
He paused ever slightly.
"We'd like to score a little bit more," Rollins conceded.
In only three of the series' 27 innings have the Phillies scored, and nearly half of their runs came on Shane Victorino's grand slam in Game 2. They relied on the superb pitching of Cole Hamels and Brett Myers, something they didn't get Saturday night.
Actually, that came from Milwaukee. The eighth inning, with two outs, in particular.
Among the things Eric Gagne lost when he decided it would no longer behoove him to use human growth hormone were a good 6 mph off his fastball and any semblance of invincibility he fostered earlier this decade. So to see Milwaukee interim manager Dale Sveum use Gagne in the eighth, knowing the heart of Philadelphia's order loomed, was either guano crazy or just kind of off-kilter.
After Jayson Werth – Gagne's close friend and former teammate with the Dodgers – banged a double into the left-field gap, up stepped Utley. Once already had he been at-bat with Werth in scoring position, and Utley popped out. This time, Gagne fed him a fastball-and-changeup diet, forcing three foul balls before a lazy flyout to center field that ended the threat. Philadelphia loaded the bases with no outs an inning later, only to watch a Victorino interference call for not sliding at second base negate a run and Salomon Torres escape with a save.
"In a situation like this, things get magnified," Burrell said. "The truth is, we won the first two games without a whole lot of production from the middle. I think that's a good thing. It means it's about to turn around."
Manuel, ever honest, took a grimmer tack: "We're fortunate to be up 2-1."
And the Brewers fortunate to be here, period. Whatever life they're on, they're still purring, hopeful that Jeff Suppan can kindle some of his previous postseason brilliance while Philadelphia's Joe Blanton struggles in his first playoff start.
Then? Let's not get too far ahead, no matter the intrigue of a winner-meets-the-Dodgers matchup with CC Sabathia and Hamels butting heads in a Game 5. One game at a time, trite though it may be, has worked for the Brewers, ever since Sveum took over with the unluckiest number of games remaining and helped navigate them to the precipice of tying this series.
For 14 hours, the Brewers and everyone in Milwaukee could relish in accomplishing something that an entire generation had lived without seeing. They won a playoff game. They were still alive. They were worth toasting. And, hey, if you happened to be double-fisting, the Cubs lost, and perhaps that was worth a clink, too.