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Milwaukee Brewers ownership drew the line at 1½ late-summer collapses, which is Mark Attanasio’s prerogative, even if the Brewers have only 12 games left and nobody can remember anything quite so September panicky and/or bold.
Manager Ned Yost was fired Monday and replaced for now by third-base coach Dale Sveum. Yost was afforded half-a-collapse more than Willie Randolph was with the New York Mets, so there was that. And while the Brewers weren’t yet done with a mortifyingly bad September (which was beginning to resemble last season’s mortifyingly bad August), their postseason prospects had been reduced to wild card or nothing, with the latter appearing more likely.
Remember, this isn’t just some mid-market team hoping to puff up and grab a postseason run. The Brewers haven’t sniffed October since 1982 and this could be their last shot for a while. CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets will be free agents, casting the Brewers in with the pool of teams trying to rebuild the top ends of their rotations. That’s not easy and that’s not cheap, and the shame of it is the Brewers – with Sabathia and Sheets out front – would be a real challenge in a playoff series, assuming they hit, which they haven’t done much of lately, either.
Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost was fired after the team's 2008 September record reached 3-11, echoing the Brewers' August collapse of 2007.
Just as we were lining them up against whatever came out of the NL East, Yost’s ballclub nose-dived into September, winning three games in 15 days. The Brewers scored more than four runs once, allowed at least four runs 11 times and, by the time they held a news conference in a Chicago Westin on Monday evening (Randolph, coincidentally, got it in a Westin, too, that one in Costa Mesa, Calif.), they’d given away every bit of a 5½-game lead in the wild card race.
Worse, over two weeks, they’d been swept by the Mets (three) and Philadelphia Phillies (four), meaning they were giving the lead away in big enough chunks that Yost probably wouldn’t have been managing a contender in the final week of September whether he’d stayed on or not.
In case Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin didn’t recognize what was going on, the team’s left fielder spelled it out after the Brewers were kicked around for two games in Philadelphia on Sunday.
He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “This series was a complete and total disaster,” adding, “The only good thing is we have been here before. This isn’t the first time all year we’ve played bad.”
Even after a 20-7 August that seemed to solidify the Brewers as walk-in playoff contestants, even after successfully camouflaging Eric Gagne in the bullpen, even after they’d become hearty enough to win 28 one-run games, the Brewers were still remarkably fragile. They were 10-5 against the St. Louis Cardinals, for months their nearest wild-card competition, and 7-8 against the Cincinnati Reds, done since May. They were 11-1 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a combined 5-11 against the Mets and Phillies.
Unable to wring everybody’s necks – though Prince Fielder infamously started with Manny Parra, an incident condescendingly dismissed by Yost – management regretfully dismissed Yost, seven months after exercising his 2009 option. If we’re able to read that correctly, last season wasn’t his fault, this season is.
So, they turn to Sveum, a sturdy baseball man whose postseason glories are as third-base coach for the 2004 Boston Red Sox (you may know him as “Send ‘em Sveum”) and, more poignantly, as bullpen coach/catcher for the 1998 New York Yankees. Sveum was released by the Yankees in August of that season but so adored the team he returned to warm up relievers through the end of that World Series run. The following year he played 49 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Fittingly, Sveum was the Brewers’ first draft pick in 1982, the last time a regular season ended well for them. Also in that season, the Brewers swapped out managers, removing Buck Rodgers and becoming Harvey Kuenn’s wall-bangers, though Kuenn had 115 games to make them wall-bangers, not 12. Yost played on that team. So did Ted Simmons, who was part of Monday’s shakeup. And so did Cecil Cooper, whose Houston Astros’ second half was in part responsible for Yost’s firing.
Attanasio had nothing to lose, as it had all been lost by Sunday evening. The Brewers open the Sveum Interim Era on Tuesday night with three games in Chicago, the Cubs no longer there to be caught, but a season still there to be saved. And they open with Sabathia and Sheets, which is as good a place as any to continue their September, both panicky and bold, and to restart their season, whatever might be left of it.