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Sveum ends small talk: Manager sticking with what put team in playoffs

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Tom Haudricourt
September 30, 2008

When Dale Sveum took over as the Milwaukee Brewers' interim manager with 12 games remaining in the season, he said he wanted the club to play more "small ball."


The Brewers did do more bunting and put on some hit-and-run plays as well. But as Sveum soon discovered, asking his players to play "small ball" was akin to putting a tuxedo on a hobo.


It just doesn't look right.


''If we don't hit home runs, we don't score," general manager Doug Melvin admitted during the team's wild clubhouse celebration Sunday after clinching the National League wild-card berth.


''What about singles teams? If they don't hit singles, they don't score. We hit home runs. End of being a small-ball team. We're not a small-ball team."


The Brewers were an all-or-nothing team all season, and when they weren't hitting home runs -- such as the first half of September -- it looked ugly. The final, chaotic week of the season showed just how much the Brewers depended on the long ball.


On Tuesday, Prince Fielder hit a two-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Brewers a 7-5 victory over Pittsburgh. Two nights later, Ryan Braun socked a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the 10th to beat the Pirates, 5-1.


The Brewers were clinging to a 2-1 lead over the Chicago Cubs on Friday night when Rickie Weeks cracked a three-run, seventh-inning homer that broke open the game and led to a 5-1 triumph.


On Saturday, there were no homers, and the Brewers bowed, 7-3, to the Cubs, losing their one-game lead over the New York Mets in the wild-card race.


One thing the Brewers learned Sunday is that it's difficult to play "small ball" when no one gets on base. After Mike Cameron's leadoff single in the bottom of the first, 18 consecutive hitters made outs.


The Cubs provided a gift in the bottom of the seventh with a bases-loaded walk, but it was Braun's two-run homer in the eighth that finally settled matters and propelled the Brewers to their first post-season berth in 26 years.


Had the Brewers not rediscovered their home-run stroke over the final week, they'd be making vacation plans today, not preparing to play Philadelphia in the National League Division Series.


''We win a lot of games when we hit a home run," said Sveum. "We're way over .500 (74-46) when we hit a home run. Obviously, that's a big part of our offense.


''Teams that have done it in the past, it's a very difficult way to score runs. It's an easy way, don't get me wrong, with one swing of the bat you've scored a run. But, on the other hand, you get 600 plate appearances and a prolific home-run hitter only hits 35. That's 565 at-bats that they don't.


''We have a lot of young hitters here. Most teams, on the other side of the fence, they've got tons of veterans that have played five to 10 years in the big leagues. Obviously, they're good hitters.


''A lot of the patience, a lot of hitting with runners in scoring position, comes with failing. We learn a lot from failing. Basically, you just get tired of it."


Sticking with Torres


Despite the struggles of Salomon Torres in recent weeks, Sveum indicated Sunday he would stick with the former set-up man as his closer. Over his last 10 appearances, Torres surrendered 17 hits, five walks and 12 runs in 8 2/3 innings.


''I'd rather him have better outings," said Sveum. "But it's not something I concern myself with. He's my closer and that's that."


No more Coffey


To be eligible for a post-season roster, you must be on a team's 40-man roster by the Sept. 1 cut-off date. That counts out reliever Todd Coffey, who was claimed off waivers from Cincinnati on Sept. 10.


Coffey played a big role in helping the Brewers secure the wild-card berth. In nine appearances covering 7 1/3 innings, he did not allow a run. Coffey surrendered six hits and two walks while striking out seven.


''He has done an awesome job for us," said Sveum. "I told (general manager) Doug (Melvin) that's one of the best late-season acquisitions we've ever had."


Paging Dr. Heimlich


As expected, the New York media wasn't kind to the Mets after they blew their playoff chances for the second consecutive season. Last year, they frittered away a seven-game lead with 17 games to go as Philadelphia passed them to win the NL East crown.


This year, they had a 2 1/2 -game lead over the Brewers in the wild-card race before folding, culminating with a 4-2 loss Sunday to Florida that cost New York its chance at hosting a one-game showdown with the Brewers.


The tabloid headlines were tied into the Mets' collapse as well as the closing of Shea Stadium. The New York Daily News' cover headline was: "No Way To Shea Goodbye: Mets blow season on stadium's last day."


The New York Post shared the front cover with the Wall Street bailout but had this headline on the back cover: "Shea It Ain't So! Mets' hopes die with stadium."



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