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MILWAUKEE CAPTURES FIRST DIVISION TITLE IN 29 YEARS
Brewers capture division title with win over Marlins
MILWAUKEE -- Ryan Braun hit a three-run, go-ahead homer in the eighth and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Florida Marlins 4-1 on Friday night to win their first division title since 1982.
Prince Fielder also homered for Milwaukee, which clinched the NL Central and reached the postseason at the earliest date in team history after waiting for 20 minutes the Cubs beat the Cardinals 5-1. With most of sellout crowd still in its seats, fireworks went off again after the Cardinals lost and fans were showered with confetti and streamers.
With chants of "M-V-P" ringing among the sellout crowd and two on, Braun homered off Clay Hensley (6-7) to end a 1-for-16 skid and then pointed his bat in the air toward owner Mark Attanasio and the fans before rounding the bases.
It was reminiscent of his 2008 homer on the last day of the season that lifted Milwaukee to its first postseason appearance since winning the AL East in 1982. Now, they're back.
"It's eerily similar," said Braun, who delighted the crowd when he held up a wrestling title belt before the Cardinals batted in the bottom of the ninth.
Nyjer Morgan emerged from the dugout, bouncing up and down in what he called a SWAT team helmet.
"It's been a wonderful ride," he said.
Shortly after the Cardinals' first out, the team congregated in the Brewers clubhouse, passing out champagne and preparing for its second celebration in four seasons.
The stadium has remained packed even though this season hasn't been as dramatic as '08. Milwaukee built a 10½-game lead midway through August over St. Louis, and even though the Cardinals whittled it down, time ran out.
Milwaukee fell to the Cardinals in seven games in the 1982 World Series, but even that season they didn't have a home-field advantage like this.
The Brewers are 53-23 at Miller Park, one win away from tying the most home wins in franchise history.
Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo pitched into the eighth, setting two franchise records for strikeouts before leaving when Emilio Bonifacio singled and second baseman Rickie Weeks couldn't handle a throw that put two on.
Francisco Rodriguez (6-2) came in and struck out Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison to end the inning, pumping his fist and beating his chest after escaping the jam.
Corey Hart doubled off Hensley with one out and Morgan walked to bring up Braun. Milwaukee had been 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position before Braun's at-bat.
After fouling a pitch off and working the count to 3-1, Braun hit Hensley's slider to deep left-center field, hitting off the scoreboard supports, then returned for a curtain call from the crowd of 44,584.
John Axford converted his 44th save in 46 chances with a perfect ninth, including the last 41 in a row, but had to pause with two outs in the ninth when the Cubs-Cardinals score was displayed after Alfonso Soriano hit a three-run homer.
Milwaukee has made three previous trips to the playoffs, but never was assured a spot until either the next to last day or final day of the season. In 2008, Braun homered to give Milwaukee a victory over Chicago and fans anxiously watched the final 20 minutes of a Marlins-Mets game that eliminated New York from contention and gave Milwaukee the NL wild card.
Fielder's homer off Chris Volstad was his 36th this year, but that was the only mistake the lanky right-hander made. Volstad deserved better. He scattered five hits and struck out five, but hasn't won a start since July 10.
The Marlins tied it in the fourth when Sanchez doubled and scored on Petersen's two-out single.
General manager Doug Melvin said his goal coming into the season was to drop confetti from the Miller Park roof, just like in 2008. In the offseason, he decided to keep Fielder, a free agent to be, and built the starting rotation by trading away his farm system's top talent.
In the span of two weeks in December, Melvin dealt his starting shortstop, backup center fielder, top pitching prospect, top hitting prospect and two pitchers who projected to be no worse than major league relievers.
The returns included 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Melvin said the Brewers were all-in, just liked they were in 2008 when they traded for CC Sabathia at midseason.
The gamble paid off again, but it took longer than expected for rookie manager Ron Roenicke.
Milwaukee remained in third place behind Pittsburgh and St. Louis on July 25. Milwaukee then won 27 of 32 to take a 10½-game lead in the NL Central.
Milwaukee joined the NL in 1998 and watched St. Louis win seven division titles while the Brewers remained mostly in the bottom of the division.
Things began changing when Attanasio, an L.A. investment banker, purchased the Brewers in September 2004 from Commissioner Bud Selig's family and steadily raised the payroll, up to more than $85 million to start this season.
Milwaukee holds losing records against the Phillies, Braves and Diamondbacks -- the other three NL teams in line to join them in the postseason.
Marlins closer Leo Nunez admitted Friday to using fake documents and a fake ID to sign a professional contract more than a year ago and Dominican authorities arrested a man accused of falsifying Nunez's documents. ... With Nunez gone, Marlins manager Jack McKeon will finish the season mixing and matching who will close games. ... Morgan received an award as the team's high energy player of the year, and his alter ego, Tony Plush, got a second trophy in a lighthearted moment. ... Greinke (15-6, 3.75 ERA) faces Marlins RHP Alex Sanabia (0-0, 1.29) in the second of this three-game series on Saturday night.
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