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Waiting to clinch tests nerves

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Michael Hunt
September 23, 2011
— It’s not true that a local baseball team is required to make you sweat before it makes the playoffs.

It only seems that way.


The ’82 American League champion Brewers took it down to the final regular-season day in Baltimore. The 2008 National League wild-card winner had to wait out the New York Mets after the 162nd game before clubhouse champagne could wash away a lot of bad history.


Just so you know, the only National League World Series representatives from Milwaukee, the 1957 and ’58 Braves, won pennants by eight games in both years.


Coasting into the playoffs helped them beat the New York Yankees once, but not twice.


Meanwhile, the current group seems intent on taking deferred gratification to a different


level.


The other night in Chicago, for example, the emotionally even Ron Roenicke got one of those questions that might make some big-league managers go all Hal McRae on an office.


For the most part, Roenicke has remained silent on the topic of the Brewers clinching their first division title in 29 years. Then someone asked if he were ready to get this thing over with.


You think?


With only a trace of exasperation in his voice, Roenicke answered, “Are you asking me if I’m anxious to clinch the NL Central?”


And with that he let it go, because the benefits of wrapping it up with regular season to spare are as obvious as they are numerous.


The Brewers could’ve begun setting up their rotation, aligning Zack Greinke at home and Shaun Marcum on the road. There’s the possibility of injury avoidance, as well as extra rest for guys like Rickie Weeks who only have one speed in the gearbox.


But they didn’t finish the job at Wrigley Field, which would’ve been poetic in some ways. Now they get to do it in the next week to the adulation and the seashells and balloons at home, although they would’ve postponed the good Miller Park vibes in exchange for a little more postseason preparation time.


The good news for the Brewers is that a smidgen of drama doesn’t always hurt at the advent of the playoffs.


The last team around here to win a division completed the regular season the hard way. Such momentum served the Brewers well against the California Angels in winning the only American League championship this city will ever have. If not for the Rollie Fingers injury, there would’ve been a World Series banner accompanying it on the same lonely stadium wall.


Yet the remarkable last-day spectacle of the 2008 wild card chase didn’t do much for the Brewers against the Philadelphia Phillies. But let’s be honest. No bottle has ever been made big enough to hold all the pent-up intangibles it would’ve required to take a legitimate shot at those Phillies. Talent trumps dramatic momentum just about every time.


But not always.


The 2005 Chicago White Sox made it interesting almost to the end of the regular season. And is anyone really sure how that team, or, for that matter, the San Francisco Giants of last season, won a World Series?


There is historical precedence for tight regular seasons carrying well into the playoffs. The 1948 Cleveland Indians, who had to hold off the Red Sox and the Yankees into overtime, could tell you that. So could the ’78 Yankees, catching and overtaking Boston as they did.


Historical precedence, though, offers no real comparables for the contemporary playoff system. It’s a grind that often requires planning and proper rest. But when you’re talking about the first division title since Robin Yount wore divots in the County Stadium turf with a dirt bike, it’s OK to admit that you’ll take it pretty much any way you can get it.


Michael Hunt writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.



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