By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Sep 29, 2008 at 5:02 AM

Two weeks ago, Dale Sveum woke up in a Chicago hotel room and became the Brewers' manager.

It's been a whirlwind since.

Things were bad for the Brewers, who had seen a 5 ½-game lead in the National League Wild Card race slip away after a 3-13 start to the season's final month. The offense wasn't producing, the defense was porous, and the pitchers were throwing batting practice.

"We were struggling and just trying to find a way to win," said outfielder Corey Hart. "When Dale took over we were able to start figuring things out and overcome it."

Sveum said he thought the move might light a spark in the players, and though they only went 7-5 the rest of the way, it was enough to get the team into the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

He juggled the lineup, moving struggling leadoff man Rickie Weeks to the bench. Veteran Ray Durham took his spot in the field and Mike Cameron moved into the leadoff role. J.J. Hardy was dropped down to No. 5 to provide protection for the big-boppers in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and Hart found himself batting sixth.

Sveum also juggled the pitching staff, moving Manny Parra to the bullpen and adjusting the rotation to get three starts out of Sabathia in a nine-day span.

Offensively, Sveum stressed a return to small-ball. The Brewers have laid down bunts and sacrifices more in the last two weeks than they have the rest of the season. The players have responded to Sveum's style, which was enough to boost them into the playoffs.

"It's just a different type of baseball," Hart said. "Who knows what would have happened. He turned it around for us and we were able to win."

Players also appreciated Sveum's encouragement to let them show their emotions. Seth McClung said that the team brought a "football player's mentality" into games.

General manager Doug Melvin is happy with Sveum's performance, too.

"He came in under tough circumstances, and has handled it very well. Our guys really responded this past week.

Helping the Brewers get back to the playoffs was an extra-special moment for Sveum, the team's top draft pick in 1982. He made his big-league debut with Milwaukee in 1986 and etched his name in the history books with his dramatic Easter Sunday home run in 1987, the one that gave the Brewers their 12th straight victory to open the season.

A collision with Gary Sheffield sidelined him in 1988 and Sveum was traded a few years later. He's wanted to return ever since.

"When I got traded in 1991 I was always trying to do something to get back and play here or coach here," Sveum said. "This is a dream come true. I'm just living a fantasy world right now."

Yost gets credit: Melvin didn't forget the man he fired when handing out credit for the team clinching the Wild Card.

"Ned (Yost) is a big part of this," an emotional Melvin said after Sunday's victory. "He managed this team for 93% of the season. He helped get us here."

Melvin pointed out Yost's willingness to stick with younger players as they worked through growing pains to become better players, as an example of his contributions.

Players, too, showed respect for Yost, who was relieved of his duties two weeks ago with the team 16 games over .500 and tied for the wild card lead.

"If there were 10 steps, Ned brought us to nine," said Bill Hall. "You've got to give him credit for that."

Sveum agreed.

"Ned did an unbelievable job for six years and got this organization back on track," said Sveum; a close friend of Yost's. "It's unfortunate what happened, but the ownership felt whatever they felt.

"Ned Yost deserves a lot of credit for this."

Melvin said the month of September has been a roller coaster for his emotions. "It was tough when we were losing, and when we made the move with Ned," he said. ‘This past week has been great in a lot of ways.

"Today, I got going early and realized I had hours before the game. I asked myself what am I going to do, drink more coffee. It's been emotional, but this is wonderful. I'm happy for the guys, for the fans, for the City of Milwaukee."

Game times set: The Brewers will open their National League Division Series Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. Game one of the best-of-five series will begin at 2 p.m. Milwaukee time.

Game two will be played Thursday at 5 p.m. also in Philadelphia.

The teams take Friday off to travel back to Milwaukee, where Game 3 is set for Saturday at 5 p.m. The fourth game, if necessary, will be played in Milwaukee and a fifth game would take place Tuesday in Philadelphia.

All NLDS games will be broadcast by TBS.

Attendance record shattered: Sunday's crowd of 45,299 brought the total season attendance to 3,068,458 -- a new franchise record.

Sunday's crowd was third-largest turnout of the season and the fifth-largest since Miller Park opened in 2001.

It was also the 44th sellout of the season.

Thanks, Wes: Wes Helms drew the ire of Brewers fans when he signed a $4.5 million contract before the 2004 season and proceeded to hit .263 with four home runs and 28 RBI before being relegated to pinch-hitting duties in 2005.

Now with the Florida Marlins, Helms finally helped his old team out.

His eighth-inning solo home run broke a 2-2 tie that would be the difference in the Marlins 4-2 victory over the New York Mets, which gave the Wild Card to the Brewers.

Injury report: Don't expect to see RHP Ben Sheets throw a pitch this postseason. In fact, it's unlikely Sheets will ever step on the mound wearing a Milwaukee uniform again. ESPN reported late Sunday night that Sheets said he is "done for the season."

Quick hits: Prince Fielder went 0 for 3 Sunday, snapping his 17-game hitting streak. He hit .409 with six homers and 19 RBIs during the streak. ... CC Sabathia recorded his 25th quality start of the season Sunday. ... Fielder and Ryan Braun are the sixth Brewers teammates to each have at least 100 RBIs in the same season and the first since Richie Sexson and Jeromy Burnitz did it in 2001. ... RHP Todd Coffey made nine appearances with the Brewers and didn't allow a single run. ... Salomon Torres' 28 saves are a career high. ... Russell Branyan hit .455 (5 for 11) with two home runs as a pinch hitter during the regular season

He said it: "I'm going to party until they tell me I can't party any more ... until they make me go home. This is great." - RHP Seth McClung, during Sunday's postgame celebration.

This week: The team participates in a rally this evening on the Summerfest grounds before heading to Philly to open the National League Division Series. They'll work out at Citizens Bank Ballpark Tuesday afternoon and play their first postseason game in 26 years Wednesday afternoon.