By Drew Olson Special to Published Oct 05, 2008 at 5:43 PM

With the possible exception of Secret Stadium Sauce and the famous racing sausages, the Brewers' first 39 years of existence will not be remembered for bold innovation. In too many, management's thought process followed a predictable path:

We need to sell tickets ... Let's have Kenosha Night!

Our players stink and the fans are mad ... Let's fire the third base coach!

We need to save money ... Let's cut back on the scouting and player development departments!

The opening of Miller Park -- coupled with regime change and revenue sharing -- ushered in a new spirit of adventurism during the past decade. From the front office to the field, the Brewers started to dabble in calculated risks with varying degrees of success.

They drafted a high school kid from Florida when other clubs thought he was too chubby to be productive. (Prince Fielder became an all-star and the youngest player in history to hit 50 homers in a season).

They hit their pitcher in the No. 8 spot and their catcher ninth. (Didn't work).

They experimented with a home-road platoon for two starting pitchers. (Less successful than the pitcher hitting eighth).

They traded a coveted hitting prospect to Cleveland for Cy Young winner CC Sabathia. (One of the best moves in franchise history).

And, most recently, they fired their manager with 12 games left while tied for first place in the National League wild-card standings. (May or may not have helped, depending who you ask.)

After years of fumbling in the dark, stubbing their big toe on every coffee table that their market size and their own ineptitude laid in front of them, the Brewers found the proverbial light switch and began to buck against some of the conventional baseball wisdom that held them back for decades.

Facing their biggest game in 26 years Sunday afternoon at Miller Park, the Brewers faced a decision fraught with potential risk, reward and future ramifications:

Who should start Game 4 of the National League Division Series vs. Philadelphia?

They took the safe, predictable and almost "no-brainer" route offered by conventional wisdom. They put their trust in reputation and experience, gave the ball to veteran Jeff Suppan, hoped for the best and got the worst.

Suppan, midway through a four-year, $42 million contract bestowed in part because of his track record of pitching well in big games, was tagged for three homers and five runs in three innings as Philadelphia ended the Brewers season with a 6-2 victory.

"The Brewers were in a tough spot," one veteran baseball man said in the media room as the verdict became inevitable. "That guy (Suppan) was their big free agent signing a couple years ago. He's pitched in big games. They pretty much had to send him out there, even though it looks like he doesn't have much left."

Had the Brewers opted to start Yovani Gallardo, who relieved Suppan with three scoreless innings on short rest, Seth McClung, Manny Parra or a combination of the three, they end result of the game may have been the same.

It's doubtful, though, that it would have been worse.

Facing a Phillies lineup that pounded him three weeks earlier at Citizens Bank Park, Suppan took the mound amid the deafening din created by 43,934 fans and about twice as many inflatable noisemakers called "Thunderstix."

"I felt good going into the game," Suppan said. "I felt like we had a good game plan."

Holes in the plan showed up early. Philadelphia's first batter of the game, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, worked the count full and hammered a homer into the bleachers in right field.

That deflated the crowd significantly, but the energy returned when Ryan Howard hit into an inning-ending double play. Suppan got into trouble in the second, giving up a pair of singles but wriggled off the hook by striking out catcher Carlos Ruiz and pitcher Joe Blanton.

Even for fans that didn't see Suppan struggle through a putrid September, it was quite clear that every batter was going an uphill battle. Suppan's best fastballs topped out at around 87 mph. He took a long time between pitches. He worked deep into counts. But, it seemed as though he might be able to continue his "Houdini" act and wriggle off the hook often enough to keep the score close and get his team into the middle innings.

The magic evaporated in the third.

Shane Victorino, the grand slam villain of Game 2, hit a one-out double and took third on Chase Utley's grounder to second. The Brewers intentionally walked left-handed slugger Ryan Howard (3 for 11, 2 homers vs. Suppan) and pitched to Pat Burrell (10 for 22, 3 homers) .

"The goal there coming into this series is not let Howard hit two-pointers against you," interim manager Dale Sveum said. "It's not that difficult of a decision. Burrell came into the series hitting .170 off righties the last 30 days... Unfortunately, it didn't work out."

With the count 2-2, Burrell crushed a three-run homer into the left-field stands.

"I thought I would go up and in and ended up throwing it right down the middle," Suppan said. "I didn't make my pitch. I overthrew it. Pat hitting a home run there was a big boost for them."

Moments later, Jayson Werth belted the Phillies third homer of the game and Miller Park was quiet enough to hear a pin drop - or thousands of Wisconsin television viewers clicking over to the Packers-Falcons game.

With a 5-0 lead and both the crowd and the Brewers looking deflated, the Phillies were well on their way to a series-clinching victory and a date with Los Angeles in the National League Championship Game.

The Brewers and their fans were left asking "Why?" and "What if?"

Why was Suppan permitted to start the game, particularly when the Brewers had skipped his turn during the stretch drive and avoided using him until the last possible moment in the post-season?

The cynics would say that there are 42 million reasons. Suppan was brought in to pitch big games. To bypass him would not reflect well on the general manager or owner.

"I don't think there was any question of him starting today," Sveum said. "He got the rest he usually does, and one pitch different, he's out of the inning and it might be a different ballgame.

"Obviously you'd like to have that pitch back, especially when you have the count in your favor. But there was never a doubt that he was going to be our fourth game starter."

The other question, which is unanswerable, is "What would have happened had used the Gallardo-Parra-McClung triumvirate?

That wouldn't have helped the offense, which scuffled against Joe Blanton, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. But, it might have helped the bottom line.

What's the bottom line with Suppan? Several things are certain:

He is a tremendous person who projects a positive image and influence in the clubhouse and the community.

He is a pitcher whose age and stats indicate that his skills are on the decline. At his peak, he was a .500 pitcher whose value was his ability to make 30-plus starts of varying quality. He handles poor teams well and struggles against high-octane lineups.

If Sabathia and Ben Sheets leave as expected via free agency, Suppan still projects as the fourth or fifth starter in the rotation.

The fact that the Brewers will pay him more than $27 million over the next two seasons isn't going to help Suppan's case in the court of public opinion.

When the Brewers signed Suppan after the 2006 season, the transaction created a positive buzz among fans and fostered a feeling that the team organization was ready to take another step on the journey to being a championship contender.

The Brewers made strides this month by winning the wild card and snapping their 26-year playoff drought, but as we look forward to the tougher steps ahead, it's hard to envision Suppan playing more than a bit role as the story continues.

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.