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Cardinals fall to Brewers in 10 innings

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McClatchy-Tribune
April 18, 2008
— For just a few minutes Thursday afternoon in the visiting dugout at Busch Stadium, a bunch of grown men turned into little kids.

That’s what happens when your big guy goes yard for the first time this season.


“That was Prince being happy,” said infielder Craig Counsell, reflecting on the baseball version of “Dancing With the Stars.”


“I think he was relieved.”


Everyone wearing a Milwaukee Brewers uniform got excited when Prince Fielder—the youngest player in major-league history to sock 50 home runs in a season in 2007—finally hit No. 1 of ’08. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.


Capping a marvelous comeback for Milwaukee that began with three tying runs in the eighth inning, Fielder socked a two-run shot with none out in the top of the 10th off St. Louis reliever Brad Thompson that gave the Brewers a dramatic 5-3 victory and avoided a three-game sweep by the first-place Cardinals.


Fielder, who teammates said was starting to feel the pressure, thought for a moment about acting cool upon returning to the dugout. But he just couldn’t.


Instead, Fielder started hopping up and down, arms raised, as teammates mobbed him and started pounding on his helmet and slapping hands. Suddenly, kindergarten broke out.


“I was trying to act tough but I couldn’t hold it,” said Fielder, who yanked a 1-2 hanging breaking ball down the right-field line and into the stands.


“It was like Little League. Just jumping up and down like a kid.”


Fielder was not the only relieved player on the Brewers’ side. His teammates had been waiting for days, hoping he’d hold it together, rooting for the long-ball drought to end.


“It was a weight lifted off his shoulders but also a weight lifted off our shoulders,” said Ryan Braun, who ignored his own tough times at the plate to hustle out an infield hit before the home run.


“We needed him to hit a homer as much as he needed to hit a homer.”


Fielder had been receiving all kinds of unsolicited advice from concerned citizens of Brewer Nation. He tried to tune it out but he was well aware that many were linking his power drought to his announced decision in spring training to become a vegetarian.


Making light of that situation, teammate and friend Joe Dillon preceded Fielder into the post-game clubhouse and loudly announced, “Prince had steak and eggs for breakfast!”


Dillon, of course, was kidding. The worm actually began to turn for Fielder in the eighth inning, when he capped a tying three-run rally with a bloop double down the left-field line, barely eluding the diving effort of St. Louis’ Skip Schumaker.


Before that well-placed and timely blooper, Fielder had three hits in 30 at-bats.


“Whether you mean it or not, you’ve got to try to be positive, even though it’s hard,” said Fielder, who also had one home run at this stage of the season in 2007. “Nobody wants to start terrible.”


“You never promise yourself that it’s not going to be hard but you’ve got to promise yourself to stay positive. It actually was getting easier. The worse I was doing, the easier it was to realize that whatever happens is going to happen.”


A dugout celebration was the furthest thing from the minds of the Brewers as right-hander Kyle Lohse mowed them down for seven innings. Lohse allowed only three singles over that stretch with no runner advancing beyond first base.


Meanwhile, Brewers starter Manny Parra was encountering all kinds of trouble. Ryan Ludwick led off the second inning with a home run and Lohse, of all people, singled in a pair of runs in the fourth, making it a short day for the young left-hander.


Consecutive doubles by Craig Counsell (three hits) and Hernan Iribarren leading off the eighth finally put the Brewers on the board and ended Lohse’s day. Ryan Franklin took over and nicked Rickie Weeks with a pitch, allowing J.J. Hardy to bunt the runners up.


Braun made it a one-run game with a sacrifice fly to left and Fielder foiled the move of summoning lefty Randy Flores with his well-placed double. Making the comeback possible was stellar work by the Brewers’ bullpen, including three shutout innings by Seth McClung.


“That’s a win that can put us right back on track,” said McClung, who entered the game with a 12.27 earned run average in two appearances. “When your big guy hits a bomb, it gets everybody going.”


It certainly got the dugout going, and Fielder appreciated the support of his teammates.


“That’s awesome that people were happy for me,” Fielder said. “That shows it’s a team. You’re happy for everybody, regardless of how you’re going.”



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