By Drew Olson Special to Published Sep 28, 2008 at 9:01 PM
Despite the Brewers' best efforts during the first seven years of Miller Park's existence, the ballpark was known nationally for nightly sausage races, a deadlocked All-Star Game, a forgettable movie ("Mr. 3000"), sausage violence (Pittsburgh's Randall Simon), a couple of neutral-site games and some pretty mediocre baseball by the home club.

CC Sabathia and Ryan Braun officially changed that characterization Sunday afternoon.

With help from their teammates and 45,299 of their loudest friends, the ace left-hander and leftfielder propelled the Brewers to a dramatic 3-1 victory over the Cubs and brought playoff baseball to Milwaukee for the first time since 1982.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," interim manager Dale Sveum said.

"The House that Bud Built" (with funding from taxpayers in five surrounding counties) -- a retractable-roof palace that attracted more than 3 million guests in a summer that was equally exhilarating and exasperating -- is now a bona fide baseball hotbed.

Milwaukee, which earned the National League wild-card entry, will face Philadelphia in the best-of-five Division Playoffs beginning with Game 1 at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. Game 3 will be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Miller Park, with Game 4 (if necessary) on Sunday.

Nobody expected things to be easy for a team that lost 16 of 25 games to start September, fired its manager with two weeks left in the season and needed help from the Florida Marlins (and Wes Helms!) to snap a 26-year playoff drought.

The final game definitely wasn't easy, with Prince Fielder imitating Bill Buckner in the first inning and Angel Guzman and a string of relievers retiring 18 consecutive Milwaukee batters after Mike Cameron's leadoff single in the first.

Sabathia and Braun, though, were up to the challenge.

As was the case in his previous 16 outings, Sabathia's dominance was dazzling. The big lefty, acquired from Cleveland on July 7, went the distance. He threw 122 pitches, struck out seven and gave up one unearned runs, four hits and a walk.

"It's our time," Sabathia said amid the champagne celebration. "This is what we wanted, and we're going to enjoy it. But, we're not done yet. We've still got work to do."

Trailing by a run in the seventh, the Brewers scratched out a tie on a bases-loaded walk by Craig Counsell. The crowd cheered when Sabathia led off the eighth with a strikeout, primarily because it meant that was returning to the mound for the ninth.

"Dale asked me, 'What would you do?'" pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "I told him he had to ride the stallion. He was hoping I'd say that, because that's what he was going to do anyway.

"We both agreed: Big game, big moment, big man. It was the right situation."

After a base hit by Mike Cameron and a flyout by Ray Durham, Braun was the right man in the right situation. He pounced on a first-pitch fastball from Bobby Howry and drove the ball into the left-field seats.

"It doesn't get any better than that," said Braun, who marked his 37th homer by skipping across home plate and into a swarm of his teammates. "It's difficult to describe."

So was the scene that followed.

After Sabathia retired Derrek Lee on a game-ending double play, the Brewers exchanged handshakes / hugs and then watched the end of the Mets-Marlins game. A Mets victory would have meant a tie and a one-game playoff Monday night at Shea. That possibility dissipated quickly.

At 4:04 p.m., the Marlins capped their victory and the Brewers uncorked the champagne.

"This is unreal," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "It's the most fun I've ever had."

At that moment, thousands of fans celebrating in the ballpark -- as well as in bars and living rooms across the state -- would have agreed.

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.