Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 6/28/14

Until early Friday evening, there had been two sporting events that I had personally attended in my life which I put above all others. One was a tense game on an early fall afternoon on the final weekend of the strike-shortened 1981 baseball season, when the Milwaukee Brewers downed the Detroit Tigers to earn the franchise’s first ever playoff berth.

The other came nearly eight years ago when the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks went to sudden death overtime in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The game ended with Al Harris’s ‘Divine Interception’, with Harris crossing the end zone literally right in front of me.

The Milwaukee Brewers walk-off win against the Arizona Diamondbacks last night to move on to the National League Championship Series may have them both topped.

That Tigers/Brewers game thirty years ago was very much like the contest Friday at Miller Park. Jack Morris was the Detroit pitcher that day, and the Brewers could do absolutely nothing for seven innings and trailed 1-0, and it looked like the battle for the AL East ‘second-half’ division title would go down to the final day. Then, in the eighth, a lead-off hit, followed by two sacrifices that the Tigers defense misplayed, and finally two sac flies to put the Crew ahead 2-1. Rollie Fingers did the rest in the ninth to seal the playoff berth.

Friday’s game followed a similar script, with Ian Kennedy and Yovanni Gallardo dueling in the late afternoon into early evening, and the Brewers finally taking that same 2-1 score into the late innings. This time it was up to John Axford, the modern-day Rollie Fingers, to slam the door.

However, for the first time since April, Axford could not complete the job, as two hits and a perfectly executed squeeze drew the Diamondbacks even and on the verge of potentially blowing the game open. But Axford stepped up after that, retiring the D-Backs with those winning runs on base (Yuniesky Betancourt completely selling himself out on force play lost in the shuffle) and then pitching a perfect tenth.

That brought us to the bottom of the inning (VIDEO HERE).

Carlos Gomez singles then steals second with Nyjer Morgan at the plate. I knew a game-winning hit with Tony Plush driving in Gomez would have the potential of literally blowing the roof off of Miller Park (ordered closed by Major League Baseball despite a game-time temperature of 78 degrees).

Then it happens: seeing-eye single up the middle, ballgame. As Gomez was rounding third I never heard a decibel level louder this loud at any sports venue. The moment was even more than I imagined, and the ensuing delirium and celebration damn near brought me to tears witnessing it in person.

Yes, the legend that is Tony Plush actually grew ten-fold.

That helped complete a first-round of the playoffs that even Keith Olbermann is calling MLB’s most compelling (so far) post-season since 1986. And coupled with the St. Louis Cardinals’ stunning ouster of the Philadelphia Phillies, the Brewers suddenly hold home field advantage for the NLCS and the World Series (thanks to Prince Fielder’s MVP effort at the All-Star Game).

And at this point Ari Kaufman is guilty of beating a completely decomposed horse, but Ryan Howard’s returns continue to diminish at an alarming pace, and even the Philadelphia fan base and the national media are starting to figure that out. Enjoy the next five years/$125 million of that contract. And the Phillies have had a great run since 2007, but suddenly face a door that is starting to close fast.

That leaves a Final Four of the Brewers, Cardinals, Tigers, and Rangers. As someone tweeted last night it’s going to be a long fortnight in Bristol, Connecticut. Guess that Yankees/Phillies World Series was not so ‘inevitable’ after all. And as I read from some neutral non-Milwaukee based accounts, the Brewers have as good a chance as any to win it all, and may even now be the slight morning-line favorite.

But first comes the St. Louis Cardinals, the team Nyjer Morgan and many others had left for dead with just 3 ½ weeks left in the regular season. 18 meetings already this year, with each team winning nine. For those who actually miss the now-stale Yankees/Red Sox encounters I’ve got news: Cardinals/Brewers has quickly become THE most intense rivalry in MLB.

And a lot of the hostility has actually been in place long before Nyjer Morgan stirred the pot in the team’s final regular season meeting. I can go back to the days of Geoff Jenkins and Seth McClung to trace back the bad blood between the teams.

The perception remains (and was reading that Friday night in Twitter-land) that the Cardinals are the ‘classy’ team with the squeaky clean home white uniforms while the likes of Fielder, Braun, Gomez, and Nyjer Morgan/Tony Plush are perceived as ‘arrogant’. A post-game ritual (started by Mike Cameron) of players merely un-tucking their shirts after wins was called out a few years back, and the Brewers latest gimmick of ‘Beast Mode’ no doubt has the Cardinals fuming as well.

Not to mention the sign-stealing, the supposed dimming of the lighting, and everything else that Tony LaRussa has thought up and alleged over this season and past seasons.

Yes, it feels a lot like 1982 all over again with Cards v. Brewers, just this time with a lot more sizzle.

One of these days fans and the media will finally discover that it doesn’t take the Yankees and/or Red Sox for MLB to put on a compelling show.


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