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Brewers snap 26-year drought

McClatchy-Tribune news services

MILWAUKEE — More than an hour after he had one-handedly — in more ways than one — hoisted Milwaukee to its first playoff appearance in 26 years Sunday, CC Sabathia stood atop the mound again, this time at the apex of a bouncing band of drunk, damp and delirious Brewers.

The 6-foot-7 pitcher’s place at this celebratory summit, long after the elated remnants of 45,299 Miller Park fans had joyfully watched the latest Mets’ collapse on the center-field scoreboard, was well-earned.

Pitching on three days’ rest for a third straight start, Sabathia overpowered the Cubs in a crucial 3-1, Game 162 victory that had heads swiveling between the field and the scoreboard.

"He’s exceeded all of our expectations," said Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, whose 37th homer, a two-run shot in the eighth, broke the 1-1 duel between Sabathia and the handful of Cubs relievers Lou Piniella pitched. "He’s exceeded all of everyone’s expectations. I think he’s the most unbelievable pitcher I’ve ever seen."

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His 11th win since arriving here from Cleveland in a July 7 deal that will be recalled as one of the greatest midseason transactions ever, earned the Brewers the National League wild card. It also won them a shot at redemption in Philadelphia, where they will meet the Phillies in a division series matchup that begins in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

"We embarrassed ourselves the last time we were in Philly," said Milwaukee infielder Bill Hall, referencing the four-game Phils sweep, Sept. 11-14, that got manager Ned Yost fired. "We’ve got to go there and show that we’re a different team now."

They also will have to find at least two pitchers to complement Sabathia, a task manager Dale Sveum said he would tackle today before the team departs for Philadelphia.

"We’ll see who’s done what," said Sveum. "This isn’t a time to worry about the Phillies, matchups and our pitching. This is a time to celebrate."

Sabathia threw 122 pitches over nine innings, limiting the Cubs to just four hits and a single unearned run. To punctuate his performance, he also made a remarkable barehand stab of a hard-hit chopper by Chicago’s Koyle Hill to end the eighth.

"He’s Superman," said Hall.

If he was weary after his 17th start as a Brewer, he didn’t show it afterward, calmly partaking in the two hours of wild clubhouse and on-the-field revelry that, even in this hops-happy city, had to put a dent in the local beer supply.

"I didn’t even think about being tired," said Sabathia. "I just knew it was a game we had to have."

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The Brewers’ emotional reaction to the franchise’s first postseason since Harvey’s Wallbangers got there in 1982 was triggered by the remarkable roller-coaster ride they endured in September.

They led the wild-card race by as many as 5 1/2 games, but staggered as they were swept by the Phillies. Then they fell behind the Phils and Mets by 2 1/2. Finally, they won six of their last seven, needing every one as it turned out, on a barrage of late-inning homers.

Along the way, the Brewers saw Yost’s stunning dismissal Sept. 14. They saw starter Ben Sheets break down again, leaving their rotation in tatters. They saw Sveum forced to turn to a hurting Sheets on Saturday and to Sabathia three times in nine days.

"We overcame a lot this year," said Hall, the beer and champagne dripping like rain from his soaked "Wild Card Champions" cap. "I think that’s why things are so crazy in here."

Sveum said the Brewers were inspired by the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who got to the World Series after salvaging a mediocre season with a late hot streak.

"I think the Rockies inspired a lot of teams," he said. "It just showed what you could accomplish if you never give up."

And if you can make a deal for CC Sabathia in July.

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