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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014

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Maybe, just maybe, there are baseball gods. And if there are, they've proven over and over again: This won't be easy.
Maybe, just maybe, there are baseball gods. And if there are, they've proven over and over again: This won't be easy. (Photo: David Bernacchi)

Brewers battle Cards, ghosts of '82

I'm a stat guy. A rational thinker. A baseball fan who doesn't believe in the baseball gods, superstition or even momentum.

But this year, as a Brewers fan, has been eery.

Back in June of 2010, I started @TweetsFrom1982, helping Brewers fans relive that storied Brewers season of 1982 one tweet at a time on Twitter. By the end of last season, Rob Peterson and I started writing recaps and reactions to games as we think we would have written them in 1982 on PastKast.com. Then we started over this season, both with the Twitter account and website, creating Brewers1982.com. We also started chronicling the 1987 Brewers season through @TweetsFrom1987 and Brewers1987.com.

Why does this matter? Because as I follow these 2011 Milwaukee Brewers, I'm also well aware of the details of what the ghosts of Brewers past were doing on these same days. And at times, it's just ... too weird.

Most fans are well aware of some of the simple similarities between the 1982 and 2011 Brewers. But let's go through a few:

Both teams came in with high expectations but started off poorly. The 2011 Brewers started out 0-4. On May 6, they completed a seven-game losing streak and were 13-19 and 5 1/2 games back. The 1982 Brewers never fell that far below .500, but they were 7 1/2 games back in the AL East on May 31.

Both teams' closers struggled early. John Axford blew two saves through his first seven chances. As of April 18, his ERA was 8.53. Rollie Fingers' first three games of the 1982 season were disasters. He lost the first game in the 10th, blew a save in the second game (though won) and lost the third game, again in the 10th. In that third game, the pitcher who had won both the AL MVP and Cy Young awards in 1981 allowed three runs on five hits and two walks in two innings. His ERA was 5.14. He was turning 35 years old. Early this season, Brewers fans nervously wanted a change at closer. The same sentiment existed early in 1982. Both closers recovered to have dominant seasons, though one ... you know what happened to Fingers (may the similarities end).

The importance of the 105th game. The 1982 Brewers moved ahead of the Boston Red Sox by a half game following their 105th game of the season. It wouldn't be until the second to last game that the Orioles would tie them. But they'd never lose the lead. The 2011 Brewers took a half game lead in the NL Central after the 105th game. They'd never give up that lead.

MVP Race on the team. During the first half of 1982, first baseman Cecil Cooper appeared to be the American League's MVP -- or at least the player from the Brewers who would contend for the award. Robin Yount would overtake him down the stretch with big hit after big hit. In 2011, first baseman Prince Fielder was the player most expected to be the MVP contender on the Brewers. At least until the final few weeks when Ryan Braun started mashing crucial hits in crucial games.

Controversial batting race. Robin Yount, the player who was surging to an AL MVP award, fell .0009 short of the batting title when he hit .331. Willie Wilson of the Royals, a team with nothing to play for, nursed his slim lead by sitting out the final game of the season. Ryan Braun finished the season with a .332 average. Jose Reyes of the Mets, a team with nothing to play for, caused controversy when he removed himself from the final game after a first inning bunt single.

I also enjoyed reading quotes from manager Harvey Kuenn about why Mike Caldwell, as a sinker ball pitcher, was more effective when he was tired. Meanwhile, Ron Roenicke was telling disbelieving fans the same about Kameron Loe.

From early on, I began tracking how the 2011 Brewers were doing in comparison to the 1982 Brewers. If you follow @BrewCrewLive on Twitter, you're probably familiar with my tweets comparing records on the same day. If things weren't going well, it was always comforting using 1982 as a reference. "Well, on this day in 1982, things weren't going so well either. But ..."

The thing is, the longer the season went, the more I wanted to wipe away those ghosts from the past. I loved Harvey's Wallbangers. But it's time for our signature season to be more than coming up short in a World Series that was 29 years ago.

I began to root for the 2011 Brewers to "beat" the 1982 Brewers. Around the time the 20-3 1987 start was finally wiped away with a 23-3 run in July and August, I began tracking what the Brewers would need to do to set a franchise record to reach 96 wins. Of course, the record of 95 was set in 1982.

Boasting an 81-54 record on August 28 coming off a sweep of the lowly Cubs, winning 96 seemed easy. Just go 15-12. Some fans thought I was setting my sights too low, that the goal should be 100 wins.

But these are the Brewers, and they like to make things interesting. And it wasn't until the final day of the regular season that they finally wiped 1982 off of the books for best regular season record.

Suddenly, it felt like destiny. Like the baseball gods, if they existed, were lining this season up perfectly for the Brewers. A season, though similar to that of 1982, that was suddenly becoming superior.

And if you believe in the baseball gods, wouldn't it make sense that the St. Louis Cardinals would beat the odds and slip into the playoffs on the final day? If you want to wipe away the ghosts of the past, wouldn't it be all too perfect to face those Cardinals, now in the same division and league, in the National League Championship Series?

Like in 1982, the Brewers made the first round (in 1982, that was the ALCS) interesting. Harvey's Wallbangers fell behind the California Angels 2-0 before winning the final three games in Milwaukee. This year's Brewers seemed unstoppable through two games before the Arizona Diamondbacks tried to play the role of those 1982 ghosts and tied up the series.

But Nyjer Morgan stepped to the plate and played Cecil Cooper, hitting a game winning single to help the Brewers advance to the next round and face ... The St. Louis Cardinals.

I hate the Cardinals with every ounce of my being. It's not just because of Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols. It's because of 1982. It's because of Joaquin Andjuar and Tommy Herr and Willie McGee and those little gnats who couldn't hit that I'm still stuck reminiscing about a season that almost was... but wasn't.

So it only makes sense that the Cardinals will fall in the Brewers' paths now. It makes it tough emotionally, thinking about how painful a loss now would be. But it would make victory that much sweeter.

Notice I use the word "would." I entered this season as a fan who said baseball superstition was bunk. I still think it is... probably. But the .009% of me that believes in superstition is enough. it's just not worth it to defy the baseball gods. You know, if they exist.

The Brewers played the Cardinals last night in Game 3 of the 2011 NLCS. On that day in 1982, these two teams faced off for Game 1 of the World Series. The Brewers would win 10-0 behind 17 hits, including nine hits combined between Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. Mike Caldwell threw a three-hitter.

Yes, the Brewers ended up losing that series after going up 3-2. But it provides some perspective on the 12-3 embarrassment that happened on Monday. There is no momentum in baseball.

But maybe, just maybe, there are baseball gods. And if there are, they've proven over and over again: This won't be easy.

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