Tom Trebelhorn ushered in a new era of baseball in Milwaukee when he led the Brewers to a 91-win breakout season in 1987. Hopes were high in ’88. The final verdict depends on your perspective—the 1988 Milwaukee Brewers slipped a bit and weren’t quite as good. But the AL East they then resided in wasn’t quite as good either, so the Brewers stayed in contention to the final weekend of the season.
Milwaukee was an American League franchise prior to 1998. And prior to 1994, each league was split into just an East and West divisions with only the first-place team advancing. The Brewers had finished behind Detroit and Toronto in ’87. And, just like today, Boston and New York could be counted on to contend. The seven-team division was rounded out by typically lowly Cleveland and included Baltimore, who would have an awful time of it this season.
In their ’87 campaign, the Brewers had finished second in the American League in runs scored and ninth in staff ERA. They reversed those rankings for ’88. Teddy Higuera continued to be the staff ace and he won 16 games with a 2.45 ERA. The young arms behind Higuera in the rotation all made significant strides forward. Chris Bosio and Don August finished with ERAs in the low 3s. Bill Wegman’s ERA was at 4.12.
All four starters stayed reasonably healthy and gave the rotation a steadiness that had been missing in 1987. The fifth starting job rotated between Mike Birkbeck, Tom Filer and Juan Nieves, all varying degrees of average.
Nieves also did some work out of the bullpen, an indication that this highly touted young starter wasn’t going to reach his full potential. Chuck Crim was an effective reliever with a 2.91 ERA and Odell Jones was respectable. The pen ultimately came to closer Dan Plesac, whose nasty slider led him to 30 saves and a 2.41 ERA.
But the offense let the arms down this year. It was no fault of this franchise’s two great Hall of Fame players. Robin Yount posted a stat line of .369 on-base percentage/.465 slugging percentage in centerfield. Paul Molitor played third and his stat line was .384/.452. Molitor also stole 41 bases and scored 115 runs.
The problem was that there was no one besides Yount and Molitor having a good year. Highly regarded young players in catcher B.J. Surhoff and outfielder Glenn Braggs did not hit. Neither did an old-school veteran at second base, Jim Gantner. Nor did first baseman Greg Brock. Power-hitting rightfielder Rob Deer saw his numbers slip, as did young shortstop Dale Sveum. Up and down the lineup there was disappointment.
A 2-6 start on the East Coast to open the year didn’t exactly match the thrills of 1987’s 13-game winning streak out of the chute. But the Brewers started to play better. They went 5-2 when those Eastern teams made return trips to Milwaukee’s old County Stadium. At the Memorial Day turn, the Brewers were 25-23. The Yankees were setting the pace in the AL East, with the surprising Indians and defending division champion Tigers close behind. Milwaukee was in fourth, 7 ½ games out and narrowly ahead of Boston.
The early portion of the summer was more of the same pedestrian baseball and the Brewers hit the All-Star break at 44-43. They were tied for fourth with Boston, nine games back and Detroit was now in the lead.
A schedule stretch against the AL East from July 25 to August 18 saw the Brewers go 10-15. They fell as many as 10 ½ games back. For all intents and purposes they were done. Even when they nudged back to within eight games, a four-game series in Detroit over Labor Day weekend was absolute must-win—and probably must-sweep.
The Brewers stunned everyone by doing exactly that. They won Thursday’s opener 6-2 on the strength of five runs in the fifth. Wegman tossed a complete-game four-hitter to win Friday’s game 5-zip. Jeffrey Leonard, acquired in June to boost the ailing offense, hit a two-run blast in the first inning on Saturday night to jumpstart a 7-3 win. In the Sunday finale, Surhoff broke up a scoreless tie in the sixth with a three-run blast and the Brewers won 6-1.
In the blink of an eye, they were73-67 and just four games back in a race where the Tigers were now tied at the top with the Red Sox. The Indians had long ago faded, while the Yankees and Blue Jays were still in the mix.
Nobody was really taking control of this race, at least by the standards of what it typically took to win a division. So the opportunity was there. Milwaukee kept playing reasonably well and nudged their record to 84-73. The problem was that Boston was keeping pace. Even as Detroit came back to the pack, Milwaukee was still five out with a week to go.
They also had a light schedule with only two games from Monday to Thursday. It turned out that on the sidelines was a pretty safe place to be. The Brewers swept their two games while the Red Sox messed around and lost three of four. Going into the final weekend, Milwaukee was three games out with three to play.
The problem was that the Brewers were finishing the season in Oakland where the A’s were on their way to the best record in baseball. Milwaukee got a break on Friday evening when Boston, with Roger Clemens on the mound, lost. But facing Oakland ace Dave Stewart, so did the Brewers. They only managed four hits, fell 7-1 and the race was over. The fact the Red Sox lost on Saturday and Sunday as well would not matter.
Milwaukee’s final record was 87-75 and they were one of five teams to finish with 3 ½ games of first place. It was a good year. The unfortunate thing is that in what was a respectable five-year run under Trebelhorn, it was the closest they would get to first place.
After a strong six-year run of contention ended in 1983, the city of Milwaukee saw losing baseball for the next three years. The 1987 Milwaukee Brewers returned to contention under first-year manager Tim Trebelhorn and gave the fan base a roller-coaster ride of excitement, fraught with several notable streaks on both a team-wide and individual basis.
The second-most prolific offense in the American League was the key to Brewer success in 1987. Robin Yount had made the shift from being an MVP shortstop in 1982to playing centerfield due to shoulder problems. The future Hall of Famer and greatest player in franchise history put up another good year, with a stat line of .384 on-base percentage/.479 slugging percentage. Milwaukee’s other future Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor, posted a dazzling .453/.566 stat line, stole 45 bases and finished fifth in the MVP voting.
Yount and Molitor were joined by some up-and-comers who had not been around during the previous era of success. B.J. Surhoff, the 22-year-old catcher and highly touted prospect, finished with an OBP of .350. Shortstop Dale Sveum hit 25 home runs and drove in 95 runs. Rob Deer hit 28 homers and finished with 80 RBI. Greg Brock played first base and had a stat line of .371/.438.
So even though other holdovers from the earlier era—like Cecil Cooper and Jim Gantner—were fading and other up-and-comers, like Glenn Braggs weren’t quite there yet, the Brewers had no problem scoring runs.
Pitching was more problematic. Teddy Higuera was the staff ace, went to the post 35 times, won 18 games and finished with a 3.85 ERA. It was a good year, but not the same as 1986 when he finished second in the Cy Young voting. Bill Wegman and Juan Nieves were promising young arms. They combined to win 26 games and finished with ERAs in the 4s. But they weren’t ready to be #2 and #3 starters in a competitive division and the rotation was a mess at the back end.
The bullpen suffered from a similar lack of depth. There was no problem at closer, where Dan Plesac saved 23 games and posted a 2.61 ERA. Chuck Crim was adequate, saving 12 games of his own and finishing with an ERA of 3.76. But with young Chris Bosio getting hit to the tune of a 5.24 ERA in a year he toggled between the rotation and bullpen, there was no one else. And the Milwaukee staff’s collective ERA was ninth in the American League.
It wasn’t until 1998 that this franchise made the move to the National League. The other unique aspect of this era was that each league was split into just two divisions, an East and a West. Only the first-place team qualified for the postseason. The AL East, where the Brewers resided, had been the stronger of the two divisions during the late 1970s and much of the 1980s. And this year would be no different.
Milwaukee wasted no time in coming out of the gate. The swept the Boston Red Sox, fresh off their 1986 pennant run but headed for a hangover year in 1987. The Brewers went to Baltimore and Nieves threw a no-hitter on a rainy night. Milwaukee couldn’t lose and the fan base—I was a high school junior in southeastern Wisconsin at the time—was on fire.
The most legendary game in what would end up a 13-0 start to the season came on Easter Sunday. The Brewers trailed 4-1 in the ninth inning at home against the Texas Rangers. With one out, Deer hit a three-run blast to tie the game. With two outs and a man aboard, Sveum won it with another home run.
Milwaukee’s record soared as high as 20-4 and their lead in the AL East got out to 4 ½ games. Then another streak came…they gave it all back with twelve losses in a row.
It was a bizarre turn of events and the Brewers continued to muddle through June. They went 10-15 in a stretch of games against the key AL East teams along with eventual AL West and World Series champ Minnesota. By the time the All-Star break arrived, Milwaukee was 42-43 and in fourth place. They were 11 games off the pace in a division race led by the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers.
The first game out of the break was against California. The Brewers won 6-4 thanks to a four-run second inning. Most notable though, was that Molitor doubled in that rally. It was time for another streak.
Molitor got at least one hit in 39 straight games. It was the longest hitting streak baseball had seen since Pete Rose got to 44 games in 1978, and fans were talking about Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game streak back in 1941. It’s no exaggeration or overly romanticizing the past to say that each evening, anyone remotely interested in baseball in the state of Wisconsin wondered whether Molitor had gotten his hit.
The streak didn’t stop until August 26 when a hitless Molitor was on deck when the winning run scored—and he didn’t hesitate to celebrate the team win, even as the individual achievement came to an end. And, not coincidentally, the streak paralleled some improved play on the field. The Brewers might still be in fourth place on Labor Day, but the record was 74-62.
If they had had been in the AL West, where Minnesota would win the division with 87 wins, Milwaukee would have still had a shot. As it was, Detroit and Toronto would have the two best records in baseball and fight an epic race to the wire. But the Brewers kept playing well. They went 5-2 in a homestand with the Tigers and Blue Jays. Milwaukee won two series with New York and moved past the Yankees into third. And in the final week, the Brewers went to Toronto and won three straight, a pivotal point in the pennant race.
The final 91-71 record marked the start of a respectable five-year run for Trebelhorn. He never won the AL East, but he posted three winning seasons and another right at .500. He is still remembered well in Milwaukee and so is that streaky season that was 1987.
The 1992 Milwaukee Brewers represented the start of a new era, with Phil Garner managing the team. The previous five years under Tom Trebelhorn hadn’t been bad—three winning campaigns and another at .500—but there had been a definite decline from the 91-win season in Trebelhorn’s rookie year of 1987. Garner had to turn around the decline and that’s exactly what happened in a surprise year where the Brewers captivated their hometown in the month of September.
Milwaukee made one big move in the offseason and was to unload the immensely talented, but oft-discontented Gary Sheffied. Only 23-years-old, Sheffield would have an excellent career with a number of teams, but he wasn’t happy in Milwaukee and wasn’t going to be. The Brewers shipped him to San Diego for a package of players keyed by starting pitcher Ricky Bones.
Another change directly inspired by Garner was style of play. The Brewers would not wait for the long ball. They would run. And run they did. Eleven players stole at least ten bases. The leader was rookie shortstop Pat Listach who batted .290, swiped 54 bags and won American League Rookie of the Year honors.
The Brewers also hit singles and drove the ball in the gaps. Paul Molitor, now 35-years-old, hit .320 to lead the way. Robin Yount, the other holdover from the franchise glory years in the early 1980s, only hit .264, but the 36-year-old was still a leader and his quest for 3,000 career hits was a big storyline in this season.
In many ways this was the anti-Moneyball team. They didn’t take walks or hit home runs, but they hit the baseball the old-fashioned way and then started running. It produced the fifth-best offense in the American League.
The pitching was even better, ranking first in the AL in staff ERA. Balance was the key. Jamie Navarro won 17 games with a 3.33 ERA. Chris Bosio rang up 16 wins and posted a 3.62 ERA. Bill Wegman’s luck was a little harder, but he went to the post 35 times and finished with an ERA of 3.20.
That alone would have made the Brewers competitive, but they uncovered a gem midway through the season. Cal Eldred, only 24-years-old, got 14 starts and ripped off an 11-2 record with a dazzling 1.79 ERA. In the bullpen, Dan Plesac, Mike Fetters and Jim Austin were lights-out in doing setup work for closer Doug Henry.
One important historical point to make here is that prior to 1998, the Brewers were in the American League. And prior to 1994, they were in the AL East. Each league was split into just an East & West, with only first-place teams moving on the postseason. Realignment and postseason expansion was still two years away and that would be significant for the legacy of the 1992 Milwaukee Brewers.
It was still a mediocre start to the season. The low point of the early going was a seven-game road swing against the White Sox, Royals and Rangers. The Brewers lost six of those games and were 20-21 on Memorial Day, 5 ½ games off the pace in the AL East.
But they came out of the holiday weekend and went 8-4. A West Coast road trip produced four more wins in six games. The only down note was Milwaukee lost a couple series to Baltimore, who joined Toronto in setting the first-half pace in this division. The Brewers had slipped 7 ½ back by the All-Star break, but they were doing their part to improve, getting the W-L record to 45-41.
Garner’s team continued to gradually pick up the pace through the late summer. They won four of seven games against Toronto and in three of those wins scored a combined 48 runs. Milwaukee was 73-65 on Labor Day and still within 5 ½ games of the lead, with the Blue Jays and Orioles still running neck-and-neck. Yount was closing in on the magical 3,000-mark as the city got excited for September.
Milwaukee took the first two games of a series with Cleveland. They lost the finale, but even that came with excitement, as Yount got his historic hit. I was sitting in County Stadium that night. I can still recall seeing the pitch come in and Yount immediately attack and hit it over the second baseman. History was made. Now the Brewers had to try and pull off a miracle run.
And they almost did. They went to Baltimore for a three-game set. After losing the opener to Oriole ace Mike Mussina, the Brewers took over. Navarrao was staked to a 4-0 lead and pitched a complete-game shutout. Eldred went the distance in a 3-1 win in the finale, aided by three hits apiece from Molitor and Listach. Milwaukee couldn’t gain ground on Toronto, but they were pulling even with Baltimore.
The Brewers went on to Fenway and took advantage of a bad Red Sox team, winning three of four games. The Orioles were now making a return trip to old County Stadium in Milwaukee for a four-game weekend wraparound set. With Toronto playing at a steady pace, one of the contenders had to deliver a clear knockout blow here.
That’s what the Brewers did. In Friday night’s opener, Greg Vaughn hit a three-run blast off Rick Sutcliffe in the first inning and the rout was on in a 12-4 win. Bosio went seven strong innings on Saturday afternoon to win 4-1. On Sunday, Bones fell behind 3-0 and was chased by the fifth inning. No problem—Milwaukee scored eight runs in the bottom of the sixth, with Molitor doubling twice in the inning. The final was 9-3.
The seven-game Oriole-Brewer sequence ended as it had begun—with Mussina winning for Baltimore. But the wins in between meant Milwaukee had surged into second place and was 4 ½ games back of Toronto.
The Brewers didn’t stop. They won eight of the next nine, getting complete-game shutouts from Eldred and Bosio. The margin was down to two games, but only the final weekend of the season remained. Milwaukee was visiting Oakland. The A’s were an elite team, but also one with nothing to play for, having already clinched the AL West. The Blue Jays were hosting mediocre Detroit. The odds were still against the Brewers, but I can still vividly recall how much the city believed.
Friday night seemed to confirm something special was going on. Oakland led 2-1 in the ninth and turned it over to closer Dennis Eckersley, a future Hall of Famer having the best year of his career. Molitor beat him with a game-tying double and the Brewers won in 11 innings.
But Toronto wasn’t playing along with the Cinderella story. They jumped out to a 6-1 lead and then held off Detroit for an 8-7 win. On Saturday, both teams had day games on tap, but with the Brewers on the West Coast, they were the later start. Toronto won 3-1 and the race was over.
Milwaukee still finished 92-70, the third-best record in the American League. Fast-forward the clock two years into realignment and they would have won the AL Central. Instead, they were going home.
The unfortunate part of this story is that, in spite of the pitching staff being mostly in its prime, this would be a repeat of the Trebelhorn Era, where the team declined. Actually, it would be worse.
Brewer GM Sal Bando made a fatal decision to let Molitor walk in free agency, believing he could better spend the money on a larger quantity of marginal players. Molitor won a World Series MVP trophy in Toronto—cheered on by his old hometown, who knew he had been nudged out the door.
Milwaukee never again had a winning season under Garner, who oversaw the team’s transition into the National League in 1998. They would not see the postseason until 2008.
The city of Milwaukee got major league baseball back in 1970, after losing the Braves to Atlanta following the 1965 season. The first eight years with the Brewers were rough—no winning seasons, and seemingly little hope for the future, after losing 95 games in 1977. No one expected what was coming. The 1978 Milwaukee Brewers made an immediate turnaround and started a six-year run that continues to define franchise history.
Milwaukee went through an offseason of change. They hired Harry Dalton as general manager. Dalton had worked for the Baltimore Orioles and he brought Oriole pitching coach George Bamberger with him to manage the Brewers. Then Dalton got down to the business of remaking the roster.
The new GM traded Jim Slaton, one of the better starting pitchers the Brewers had, as part of a deal to get outfielder Ben Oglivie from the Detroit Tigers. Dalton picked up catcher Buck Martinez in a minor trade with St. Louis. He bought the contract of outfielder Gorman Thomas from the Texas Rangers. And most important, at least for 1978, is that he went on the free agent market and signed outfielder Larry Hisle.
Hisle had a huge year in ‘78, hitting 34 home runs and driving in 115 runs. He finished third in the MVP voting. Thomas hit 32 home runs and drove in 86 runs. Oglivie finished with a stat line of .370 on-base percentage and .497 slugging percentage. Martinez stabilized the catching position. Yes, it’s fair to say Dalton’s moves worked out pretty well.
Nor were the new players the only ones who could hit. Veteran third baseman Sal Bando had an on-base percentage of .371 and popped 17 home runs. Sixto Lezcano, the 24-year-old rightfielder posted a .377/.459 stat line, while first baseman Cecil Cooper’ was at .359/.474. Don Money was a reliable bat either at DH, off the bench and in a variety of roles.
Have we forgotten anyone? Well, you may have heard of the middle infield tandem. Robin Yount was only 22-years-old at shortstop, but already entering his fifth major league season. He hit .293. And the second baseman was 21-year-old rookie Paul Molitor, who swiped 30 bases and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Yount and Molitor would become the franchise’s greatest stars and go on to Cooperstown.
Milwaukee’s offense was the most productive in the league, no small thing when you consider the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees each had great teams in 1978. But it was the Brewers who set the pace in runs scored, along with the component pieces of on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs and batting average.
At the top of the starting rotation was 22-game winner Mike Caldwell, a savvy lefthander who worked over 290 innings, posted a 2.36 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young voting. Lary Sorensen won 18 games, worked 280 innings and had a respectable ERA of 3.21. Caldwell and Sorensen combined to throw forty complete games in 1978.
It was the rest of the pitching below Caldwell and Sorensen that held the Brewers back. The back end of the rotation and the bullpen were unreliable and the Brewers finished with a staff ERA that was just 8th in the American League (The franchise didn’t move to the National League until 1998).
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Milwaukee opened the season against Dalton and Bamberger’s old friends in Baltimore, who had contended to the final weekend in 1977. And the new Brewer offense absolutely unloaded, scoring 40 runs in a stunning three-game display. They followed that sweep by taking a two-game set from the defending World Series champion Yankees.
The 5-0 start got people excited, but a road trip to Boston, Baltimore and New York wasn’t as kind. Milwaukee lost eight of ten, before righting the ship with a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals, a playoff perennial in the late 1970s.
By Memorial Day, the Brewers were a respectable 22-20. By today’s standards that would have a team squarely in the playoff hunt. But the rules prior to 1993 split the leagues into two divisions, with only winners advancing directly to the League Championship Series. Milwaukee was in the AL East, where Boston and New York were setting the pace and the Brewers faced a 7 ½ game deficit.
But just playing winning baseball was a refreshing change and Milwaukee kicked it up a notch in the early part of the summer. They ripped off an 11-1 stretch in June that put them ten games over .500 and they stayed well above that threshold the rest of the way.
They finished off the first half with a three-game series against the Yankees. The Friday night opener pitted Caldwell against New York ace Ron Guidry, who was having one of the great seasons of all-time and would end up with the Cy Young Award. On this night, Caldwell was the one who threw a four-hit shutout. Hisle hit two homers and Milwaukee won 6-0. They swept the now-reeling Yanks and were in second place at the All-Star break.
Boston was insanely hot in the first half of 1978 and still led the AL East by nine games. The Red Sox started what would be a historic collapse in July. Milwaukee won nine of their first eleven out of the break and closed the margin to 4 ½ games. But now it was New York that was getting started on scorching run of baseball. Over an 11-game stretch with both the Yanks and Red Sox in August, the Brewers went 3-8.
Any hopes of winning the AL East realistically ended there, but Milwaukee didn’t give away their hard-earned progress of the first four months. They answered that slump with a 9-2 stretch and were sitting with a 78-58 record on Labor Day. And they continued to roll through September, mostly against teams from the AL West. They did have a two-game set in the Bronx and Caldwell again threw a shutout to beat Guidry, who only lost one other game outside of the times the Brewer ace beat him.
Milwaukee finished with a record of 93-69. By the standards of today, it would have been enough to make the playoffs. By the standards of 1978, it would have been enough to win the AL West, where the Royals won with a 92-70 mark. But in the East it was only enough to be six games out and join the rest of baseball in watching the epic one-game Yankees-Red Sox playoff.
But it was also enough to energize a fan base. The Brewers had arrived and over the next six years, their offensive prowess would be a major part of the baseball landscape. They ultimately made the playoffs in 1981 and won the American League pennant in 1982. They remain a beloved team in the state of Wisconsin. It all started in 1978.
The 1983 Milwaukee Brewers were a team looking to finish the job, after coming one game short of a World Series title in 1982. For five solid months they made a run at it, but a September fade portended a finishing of a different kind—the completion of the greatest era in franchise history.
Milwaukee’s offense was still led by two future Hall of Famers in the prime of their careers. Shortstop Robin Yount followed his MVP year of 1982 with another excellent all-around season, finishing with a .383 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage. Paul Molitor at third saw his numbers dip somewhat, but still had a .333 OBP and swiped 41 bases.
Cecil Cooper was as good as ever at first base, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 126 runs. Ted Simmons, the veteran catcher had 108 RBI. But both were 33-years-old, which was one problem the Brewers faced—outside of Molitor and Yount, this was becoming an old team. And the supporting cast dipped noticeably in 1983.
Ben Oglivie, the power-hitting rightfielder, was productive when he played–.371 OBP/.463 slugging, but a substantial amount of missed time kept him to 13 home runs. There was no production at the DH spot. Second baseman Jim Gantner had an off-year. Charlie Moore had a decent .354 OBP in rightfield, although his power dipped.
The biggest change came in centerfield though. Since this franchise started its rise to prominence back in 1978, Gorman Thomas was in center. Gorman was one of the best home run hitters in the game and had further renown for crashing into fences defensively. His range was—to be kind—rather limited—and he wasn’t above striking out a lot. But he was colorful and a hero to the blue-collar fan base. But the first two months of the year went poorly for him and on June 6 he was traded.
Thomas was the key piece moved in a deal with Cleveland to get Rick Manning, who was the precise opposite. Manning didn’t hit, but excelled defensively. And his defensive excellence was such that he rarely needed to crash into a fence. He simply ran balls down. He was a good ballplayer, but he was never going to captivate a community like Gorman did. In pure baseball terms, this was not a huge trade—Gorman only had one more good year left in the majors. But it marked a recognition by Milwaukee that they needed to get younger in a hurry.
A rematch of the 1982 ALCS with the California Angels opened the season and the Brewers lost two of three. They were able to answer by sweeping a two-game set with the Chicago White Sox, who would supplant the Angels at the top of the AL West.
That makes now a good time to explain a couple major differences in the MLB landscape. As you may have gathered, the Brewers were an American League team. It was not until 1998 that they joined the NL. And both leagues were split into just two divisions, East & West, and only the first-place teams advanced to the playoffs. Milwaukee was in an AL East that was rightfully renowned as the best in baseball.
But the AL East collectively didn’t start out well and the Brewers were a part of that. Milwaukee was .500 on Memorial Day, but amidst a group of six teams packed within three games of first place.
The early part of the summer was more of the same. After the Thomas trade, Milwaukee went into a swoon where they lost 11 of 15 against the Orioles,Yankeesand Tigers. But the Brewers took advantage of seven games with division also-ran Cleveland, went 6-1 and were still 38-37 at the All-Star break.
None of the other traditional AL East powers had gotten traction. Baltimore, who had gone to the final day with Milwaukee in 1982, was also muddling along. New York and Boston were in the mix, but were a far cry from their great teams of the late 1970s. Detroit was on the rise, but not yet a cut above anyone else. It was Toronto, who had never been a factor since their existence began in 1977 that was setting the pace. The Brewers, 4 ½ games out, were one of five teams in pursuit of the surprising Blue Jays.
BREWER 6-PACK WATCH THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S VIDEO DISCUSSION OF THE 1978-83 ERA
The Milwaukee veterans heated up in July and August. They won 15 of 22 against AL West teams. On August 10, behind a shutout from Haas in Kansas City, they pulled even. Over the next fifteen days, the Brewers were anywhere from a game up in the AL East to a game behind. Simmons won two consecutive games against the fading Red Sox with walkoff RBIs.
A nine-game road trip to the West Coast didn’t go well, with six losses and surging Baltimore began to get some separation, as Toronto faded and Boston collapsed. But with Labor Day signaling the arrival of the stretch drive, the Brewers were still within five games. They were squarely in the middle of a pennant race with the Orioles, Yankees and Tigers. And they had fifteen games coming up against those three teams.
It was an ideal team for a veteran team to assert themselves and Milwaukee started by taking the first two of a four-game home set with New York. It was the last high point of this franchise’s six-year run. The Brewers won only one more game in the rest of this stretch. Showing that fate can be cruel, they were swept four straight in Baltimore to finish it off—the same four-game sweep the Orioles had needed to end 1982, but couldn’t get.
Milwaukee still ended the season at 87-75. In the rugged AL East, that was only good for fifth place, but it was the ninth-best record overall. By the standards of today, this was a playoff-caliber team. By the standards of the 1983 AL East, they were eleven games off the pace.
Manager Harvey Kuenn stepped down in what looked like a mutual agreement between club and skipper that the time had come. There were no illusions in Milwaukee and it was understood that an era had ended, although it’s safe to say that no on expected the complete collapse in 1984 when the Brewers were one of the worst teams in baseball.
Winning baseball returned to Milwaukee in reasonably short order—by 1987, when they began another six-year run of having decent teams. But those teams were no match for what 1978-83 had given the people of Wisconsin. Those teams were not only good, they were colorful and fun and have a special place in the heart of a home region that normally reserves such affection for the Green Bay Packers. That era ended in 1983.
The 1980 Milwaukee Brewers came into the season as a team on the rise. They followed up a breakout year in 1978 with another strong year in 1979, in each case only the strength of their division keeping them out of the playoffs. By that standard, 1980 was a disappointment. The Brewers continued to play winning baseball, but injuries and bullpen problems led to regression in the won-loss column.
The Milwaukee teams of this era were renowned for their ability to hit. The ‘80 edition finished third in the American League in runs scored, and excelled at most everything except drawing walks—which, in all fairness, was not emphasized the way it is in today’s game.
Cecil Cooper hit .352, second in the American League and the first baseman finished fifth in the MVP voting. Ben Oglivie’s 41 home runs tied for the league lead. Robin Yount played terrific all-around baseball, leading the league in doubles and scoring 121 runs. Gorman Thomas bashed 38 home runs. Charlie Moore and Jim Gantner weren’t feared hitters, but with batting averages of .291 and .282 respectively, they weren’t easy outs in a lineup like this.
But Molitor missed 50 games, and his penchant for getting on the disabled list eventually prompted a move to get him away from his second base spot. Sixto Lezcano, a rising star in rightfield, first missed 50 games of his own and had a bad year when he was healthy.
The starting pitching was good enough to compensate—Moose Haas came into his own at the age of 24 and won 16 games with a 3.10 ERA. Mike Caldwell, a reliable veteran lefty, logged 225 innings and won 13. Lary Sorensen, another reliable arm, churned out 12 wins and nearly 200 innings. Bill Travers was competent at the back end of the rotation and the Brewers got some respectable spot start work from Paul Mitchell and Reggie Cleveland.
But the bullpen was woefully lacking in depth. Bob McClure and Bill Castro were functionable arms, but at a time when the closer’s role was becoming ever-more popular—and also one that would be utilized as early as the seventh and eighth inning, the Brewers were woefully deficient.
And the division they were in was merciless. Milwaukee was an American League team prior to 1998 and in the baseball alignments that existed up through 1993, they were in the AL East. There were only two divisions per league and only the first-place teams advanced into postseason play. The previous two seasons had seen Milwaukee produce a team that was good enough to win other divisions—but not the one where any of the Yankees, Red Sox or Orioles were knocking on the door of 100 wins.
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The season started off in exciting fashion. Lezcano came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth in a 5-5 tie against the Red Sox. He poked a grand slam down the rightfield line. The Brewers went on to take two of three in New York. But they were also swept three straight at home by lowly Toronto. At the Memorial Day turn, Milwaukee’s record was 19-18, four games off a pace being set by the Yanks.
An East Coast trip in June went well, as the Brewers went 5-2 on a run through Boston and Baltimore. They went 9-5 on a long road trip that included AL West power Kansas City and the West Coast. But the bullpen weakness was most evident by three walkoff losses. Milwaukee’s record was a solid 43-34 at the All-Star break, but New York was the best team in the majors and held a seven-game lead.
In the late part of July it became apparent that Baltimore, rather than Milwaukee, would be the one to make a run at New York in the second half. The Brewers lost five of six games to the Orioles. Milwaukee also dropped five of eight to New York. For good measure, they dumped three of four in Fenway.
There were some good moments—a four-game sweep in Cleveland saw the bats get unleashed and score 10-plus runs twice. But the problems against the league’s upper crust continued to be evident when Kansas City came to town in late August. The Royals won three straight, including one game where George Brett went 5-for-5 and lifted his average to .407. It was the highwater mark of Brett’s pursuit of .400, and he eventually “slipped” to .390.
During this long hot summer, manager George Bamberger, whose arrival in 1978 coincided with the arrival of winning baseball, stepped down. Buck Rodgers took his place. The Brewers showed life in September, even though they were miles off the pace of the Yankees and Orioles, who each hit the 100-win threshold.
Milwaukee went 17-12 down the stretch. They ended the season the way they had begun—with some walkoff drama for the home fans. Oglivie hit his 41st home run in the ninth to tie the game 4-4 and tie him with Reggie Jackson for the AL home run title. The Brewers eventually won in 15 innings and finished the season 86-76.
It was a fun ending, but did not overshadow the disappointment that Brewer fans felt. They were used to contention and wanted to see their team get over the hump. They wouldn’t have long to wait—by December, the biggest trade in franchise history was engineered to strengthen the bullpen with Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers. In 1981, they made the playoffs in the strike-shortened season. And in 1982, they won the American League pennant.
The 1979 Milwaukee Brewers were coming off a breakout 93-win season in 1978,the first winning season in franchise history.In ‘79, the Brewers showed they were no fluke, stepping it up to 95 wins, even if the structure and format of MLB at that time continued to keep them out of the postseason.
Milwaukee was an American League city until 1998. That difference was mostly cosmetic. The real stumbling block was that baseball’s alignment split each league into only two divisions, East & West, and took only the first-place team directly into the League Championship Series. Milwaukee was on the far western border of the East. In 1978, that meant the behemoths from Boston and New York kept the out of the playoffs. In 1979, Baltimore took their turn. In both cases, Milwaukee was better than the eventual champion of the AL West.
The Brewers were fueled by a potent offense. Centerfielder Gorman Thomas hit 45 home runs to lead the league and drove in 123 runs. Sixto Lezcano, the rising 24-year-old star in right field, batted. 321, hit 28 homers and finished with 101 RBI. Paul Molitor, in the second season of a Hall of Fame career, hit .22 and stole 33 bases. Cecil Cooper, the steady first baseman, hit .308, drove in 106 runs and popped 24 homers of his own.
Charlie Moore took over the catching job at age 26 and was another .300 hitter. Ben Oglivie provided more muscle, hitting 29 home runs. The quality of the lineup can be underscored by this—shortstop Robin Yount, a future Hall of Famer and the greatest player in the history of the franchise, had a bad year in 1979. Larry Hisle, the DH who led the offense in ‘78, tore a rotator cuff in early May and saw his career effectively ended. And the Brewers still scored more runs in 1979 (807) than they had in 1978 (804).
Offense across the league was up, so Milwaukee still slipped from leading the league in runs scored in ‘78 to fourth this time around. But that makes the pitching improvement all the more impressive, where they jumped from 8th to 4th in staff ERA.
Mike Caldwell and Lary Sorensen were the 1-2 in the rotation. Neither was as good as they had been in ‘78, but both were still very effective. Caldwell won 16 games with a 3.29 ERA, while Sorensen added 15 wins and an ERA of 3.98. The difference is that, unlike 1978, there was more depth to the staff.
Jim Slaton had been traded for Oglivie prior to 1978, but returned to Milwaukee via free agency for this season and was another 15-game winner. Bill Travers had a solid year, with 14 wins. Both had sub-4.00 ERAs, giving manager George Bamberger some steady balance in his rotation. Bill Castro, Jerry Augustine and Bob McClure were reliable, if unspectacular arms, out of the bullpen.
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The schedule-makers put the Brewers to the test early, with the first 15 games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles. Milwaukee played to mixed reviews, going 7-8. But they took advantage against the lower half of the AL East, with a 13-6 run against the Blue Jays, Tigers and Indians. By Memorial Day, the Brewers were 26-21 and four games off the pace being set by Baltimore.
The AL East was a four-team race coming into the early part of the summer. The Yankees started to fade, while the Orioles and Red Sox began to separate. The Brewers again took advantage of the lower half of the division, with a 7-1 stretch against Toronto, Detroit and Cleveland going into the All-Star break. The spurt kept Milwaukee in third place, within six games of the lead.
In late July, all three division powers were coming into old County Stadium. New York was up first and on a Friday night, the Brewers had coughed up a 5-3 lead and were in a 5-5 game, facing the Yankees’ Hall of Fame closer Goose Gossage. With two outs in the ninth, Cooper ripped a walkoff blast that jumpstarted a sweep. The Yankee season went from frustrating on the field to tragic off of it, with catcher Thurman Munson dying when his private plane crashed just a few days later.
That left the Red Sox and Orioles and the next eight games were as forgettable a stretch as Milwaukee fans—a group that’s seen some ugly Augusts over the years—have ever dealt with. They lost three straight to Baltimore, four of five to Boston and were effectively out of contention by the time the homestand ended.
But it was only the quality of the competition that was the reason for being out of the race. The Brewers reached Labor Day with a record of 82-56, the third-best in all of baseball, behind only the eventual World Series teams from Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
That more or less held to the end of the season. The Montreal Expos slipped past Milwaukee for the third-best record, but the Brewers’ final mark of 95-66 was the fourth-best in the game. But in the ruthless world of the late 1970s AL East, it was still eight games shy of the mark. Maybe the most important number you need to know to understand these Brewers is 336.5—that’s the distance from Milwaukee to Minneapolis, which is where the boundaries of the AL West began.
The 1982 baseball season has some hidden gems in MLB history. The final day of the regular season produced an epic head-to-head battle. Game 5 of the American League Championship Series—then the decisive game, in this era of best-of-five LCS play—produced a similar dramatic ending. A future Hall of Fame manager made his first appearance on the October stage. And none of the teams involved in any of the above ultimately won the World Series. Here’s the rundown…
*The Milwaukee Brewers won a memorable winner-take-all regular season finale with the Baltimore Orioles after both teams had caught the Boston Red Sox from behind after slow starts. The Brewers then won an equally memorable Game 5 of the ALCS against the California Angels. Both are games that should rank much higher in the conventional list of baseball’s great moments.
*Joe Torre was mostly known for his playing days and less for his five unsuccessful years managing the New York Mets. Torre took over the Atlanta Braves in 1982, and backed by an MVP year from centerfielder Dale Murphy, the Braves won an exciting NL West race on the last day of the season. It was Torre’s first appearance in the postseason and it certainly wouldn’t be his last.
*Atlanta’s victory in the NL West came about because of a memorable Dodgers-Giants finale, both teams that were in the race to the end. The rivals took turns ousting each other on Saturday and Sunday and added fuel to the bitterness of their longstanding rivalry.
But it was not the Braves or the Brewers that ultimately won the World Series and not the three-way races in the AL East or NL West that ultimately told the story of the 1982 baseball season.
The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t play with the same drama—of the four division winners, they were the one who clinched with a little bit of room to spare. The Cards swept the Braves in a drama-free NLCS. The drama finally came in the World Series, when St. Louis survived Milwaukee in an exciting seven-game battle.
This blog compilation contains the stories of the eight most important teams of the 1982 MLB season—the four division winners, along with the Orioles/Red Sox in the AL East and Dodgers/Giants in the NL West. These are followed by game-by-game narratives of the ALCS, NLCS and World Series.
No team had ever lost the first two games of a League Championship Series and then rallied to win what was then a best-of-five round. The Milwaukee Brewers dug just such a hole against the California Angels in the 1982 ALCS. The Brewers made history, with three consecutive wins at home.
You can read more about the regular season paths the Brewers and Angels took to the playoffs and about the years enjoyed by their key players, at the links below. This article focuses squarely on the games of the 1982 ALCS.
California hosted the first two games and the ALCS began with both teams sending a pair of veteran lefties to the mound. The Angels sent out the accomplished sinkerball pitcher Tommy John, while the Brewers answered with gritty Mike Caldwell. It didn’t look for California to get after Caldwell—Brian Downing led off the first with a single, and after an error and wild pitch, Don Baylor picked up the game’s first run with a sac fly.
Milwaukee was loaded with power and showed it in the second. After a leadoff single from Ted Simmons, the big centerfielder, Gorman Thomas, went deep. The Brewers added another run in the third when Paul Molitor and Robin Yount each singled with one out and Cecil Cooper produced a productive ground ball for a 3-1 lead.
Caldwell couldn’t hold the lead, with Downing again leading off the inning and getting it started. He singled, then Doug DeCinces and Bobby Grich each did the same. Baylor then cleared the bases with a triple to make it 4-3, and came in to score on a groundball out by Reggie Jackson.
The Angels kept coming in the fourth. A leadoff single from Bob Boone chased Caldwell. A Molitor error was followed by a walk, and a two-run single from Baylor. It might have been worse, if not for a line drive double play off the bat of Jackson. The score was 7-3 and though California didn’t score again, John settled in and locked down the Brewers the rest of the way, with a complete-game seven-hitter.
Milwaukee turned to their 18-game winner Pete Vuckovich, who would win the Cy Young Award a month later. He faced Bruce Kison, a veteran of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates championship team. Vuckovich was not sharp. In the second inning, he gave up a single to Fred Lynn, a double to Doug DeCinces and a two-run single to Tim Foli, another veteran of that ’79 Pirate team. One inning later, Jackson took Vuckovich deep. In the fourth, DeCinces walked, Grich singled and a Foli bunt set up a sac fly.
Meanwhile, Kison was containing the potent Milwaukee lineup. The Brewers broke through in the fifth when, with a man aboard, Molitor hit one to the wall in center, kept running and wound up with an inside-the-park home run. Both pitchers settled in though, and the Angels kept their 4-2 margin and seemed to have an ironclad grip on this ALCS.
After a day off, the teams flew to the Midwest and on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Milwaukee (at age 12, living in the city’s west suburbs, I was at this game), the Brewers sent veteran Don Sutton to the mound. Sutton had won a winner-take-all game for the AL East title in Baltimore the previous Sunday and now again held his team’s fate in his hands.
Sutton was ready, and so was California’s 18-game winner Geoff Zahn. The game was scoreless into the bottom of the fourth, when the Brewers broke through. Yount drew a walk to start the inning and Cooper doubled him home. Simmons singled and runners were on the corners. Thomas picked up another run with a sac fly. Ben Ogilvie singled to right and reset the bases with men on each corner. Don Money came up with a sac fly. The Brewers were renowned for their power, but good situational hitting in this inning gave Sutton a 3-0 lead.
Sutton got some insurance in the seventh when Money walked and Molitor hit a two-out home run. The insurance was needed, because the Angels rallied in the eighth. Boone started it with a solo blast. Rod Carew singled with one out. Consecutive doubles from Lynn and Baylor suddenly made it a 5-3 game and the tying run was at the plate.
Milwaukee manager Harvey Kuenn summoned Pete Ladd, the young arm thrust into the closer’s job after a September injury to Rollie Fingers, a future Hall of Fame reliever. Ladd was up to the moment, closing down the eighth, and retiring the side in order in the ninth. The Brewers were still alive.
I was back out at old County Stadium on Saturday, although the weather wasn’t as nice. It was a dank and cloudy afternoon, and the quality of play wasn’t nearly as good on the field. California put John back out on short rest.
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Manager Gene Mauch had a good 21-year-old righthander in Mike Witt, but decided to take his chances with John and Kison—both battle-tested playoff veterans—on short rest. It was a logical decision, but John didn’t have it, and his team did not play well behind him.
In the second inning, after a walk to Simmons and a one-out walk to Money, the California defense came undone. Mark Brouhard, a righthanded-hitting platoon hitter in to face John, singled to center. That scored one run, but Lynn came up throwing to third and threw it away. The scored another run. Brouhard kept running. One more throwing error brought him all the way around. For the second day in a row, the Brewers were up 3-0.
John continued to struggle in the fourth. With runners on first and second and one out, a wild pitch moved the runners up. After an intentional walk, another wild pitch brought in a run and put runners on second and third. A base hit from Jim Gantner made it 5-0 and John was pulled. A ground ball out by Molitor tacked on one more run before it was over.
Milwaukee’s #4 starter, the inconsistent Moose Haas, was on his game and not until the sixth did the Angels rally. A walk to Downing set up a two-out double from Lynn and California’s first run. But the Brewers immediately answered, with Brouhard doubling and then scoring on another RBI single from Gantner.
The Brewers were cruising, but just as had been the case on Friday, the eighth inning made it interesting. Base hits from Downing and Carew, then a walk to Lynn loaded the bases. Baylor came to the plate and hit a grand slam. In the blink of an eye, it was 7-5 and Slaton was summoned to preserve the lead.
Brouhard came up in the bottom of the eighth. A workmanlike reserve, he was already having the game of his life, and with a man aboard he sealed with a two-run blast that opened the lead back up. Slaton closed the door on the 9-5 win—the last out appropriately coming on a fly ball to Brouhard.
Sunday afternoon was another beautiful October day in Wisconsin (though I would be in front of the TV set rather than out at County for this one). The pitching matchup was another Kison-Vuckovich battle, as the Brewers brought out their own ace on short rest for Game 5.
For the second straight start though, Vuckovich was slow getting started. Downing greeted him with a double to start the game, and scored on a two-out hit from Lynn. Milwaukee also looked sloppy—prior to scoring, Downing had gotten to third base because Molitor threw errantly to second base after a line drive out, seeking a double play. And after Lynn’s single, he was able to take second on a throwing error from Ogilvie.
However sloppy, the game was still just 1-0 and Molitor started the Brewers’ own first inning with a double. He moved up on a grounder by Yount and scored on a sac fly from Simmons. Tie game.
Lynn was insanely hot during this ALCS and hit .611 for the series. In the third inning, he drilled another two-out RBI single, bringing in Boone. In the fourth, the Angels added another run. DeCinces doubled to start the inning and then Cooper booted a sac bunt attempt. A single by Boone made it 3-1, but Vuckovich got out of it with a double play ball off the bat of Grich.
Ogilvie was the everday leftfielder and back in the lineup today for Brouhard because a righthanded pitcher was on the mound. Ogilvie was also a terrific power hitter and he took Kison deep in the bottom of the fourth to cut the lead to 3-2.
It was there the score stayed through the middle innings. A California threat in the fifth was cut off when Jackson tried to go first-to-third on yet another single from Lynn, and Milwaukee rightfielder Charlie Moore threw Reggie out at third. Kison came out of the game after five innings, a curious decision in light of California’s lack of bullpen depth.
Luis Sanchez was still one of Mauch’s better relievers and he was on the mound in the seventh. With one out, Moore legged out an infield hit and Gantner singled to center. With two outs, Yount worked a walk. It brought Cooper to the plate.
The lefthanded-hitting Cooper slapped a line drive into left field. It seemed to hang in the air briefly, as though it might be playable for Downing. The TV cameras caught Cooper using his hands to try and will the ball down, in the same way Carlton Fisk had tried to wave his memorable 1975 World Series home run fair. It worked as well for Cooper as it had for Fisk. The ball dropped. Two runs scored and Milwaukee was ahead 4-3.
Bob McClure, the Brewers’ lefthanded option out of the pen got through the eighth and started the ninth. He quickly gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Ron Jackson. Each manager made moves. Mauch inserted pinch-runner Rob Wilfong and Kuenn went to Ladd.
A sacrifice bunt gave the top of the order two chances to tie the game. Downing grounded out to Molitor. Up next was Carew, the best pure contact hitter of his era. He slapped a hard ground ball to the left side. It went right at Yount, who made the play and the celebration was on in Milwaukee.
The Brewers came close to another celebration—they reached Game 7 of the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. But after winner-take-all games to win the division and the ALCS, this one was a bridge too far and the Cards won the title.
It proved to be the last hurrah for Milwaukee. They faded down the stretch in 1983 and collapsed in 1984. California didn’t return to contention until 1985 or to the postseason until 1986, a year when they built upon a legacy of heartbreak that began in 1982, again losing three straight games where they had a chance to clinch.
The 1982 ALCS is an underappreciated gem in the treasure chest of MLB history. I don’t just say that because I had the good fortune to attend two games. It marked the first time a team won three straight must-win games to take a pennant, it produced an outstanding Game 5 and provided a memorable visual of Cooper willing his decisive hit to the ground. Let’s give this series its proper place in the history books.
It was the “Suds Series”, as the 1982 World Series brought together two of the great brewing cities in America, with the St. Louis Cardinals meeting the Milwaukee Brewers. And the Suds Series produced seven games, complete with good back-and-forth battles, as each team trailed the Series by a game at one point before rallying to take the lead. It was St. Louis who traded their beer for champagne in the end.
It was an ironic matchup for reasons behind a shared city heritage. The Brewers and Cardinals were just a year removed from a huge trade—prior to the 1981 season the teams completed a seven-player deal where the Brewers got a Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers and an All-Star catcher in Ted Simmons.
The Cardinals (who had Fingers only for a couple days in the offseason as a result of a trade with the San Diego Padres) didn’t fare quite as well, getting mostly well-regarded prospects that didn’t pan out, but that deal with the Padres had gotten them a defensive wizard at shortstop in Ozzie Smith.
You can read more about the regular season paths the Cardinals and Brewers took to the Fall Classic and about the years enjoyed by their key players, at the links below. This article focuses squarely on the games of the 1982 World Series.
The National League held homefield advantage by virtue of the rotation system that existed prior to 2003, and the trade-off was that American League rules were used throughout the Series—there would be a DH in all games.
Two veterans, Mike Caldwell for Milwaukee and Bob Forsch for St. Louis got the call, and Milwaukee wasted no time getting after Forsch in the first inning. With one out, the Brewers’ MVP shortstop Robin Yount singled and Cecil Cooper followed with a walk.
With two outs, an error by normally sure handed Cardinal first baseman Keith Hernandez let in a run. Then Gorman Thomas, a big burly slugger had an RBI in an atypical high—he beat out in an infield hit. Caldwell took the mound with a 2-0 lead.
The Brewer lefty was razor-sharp and his team kept after Forsch. In the top of the fourth, Charlie Moore doubled down the left field line, was bunted to third and scored on a single by Paul Molitor. One inning later, Simmons homered. In the sixth, Milwaukee broke it open. With two outs, Jim Gantner singled to right. Then Molitor singled to left. Yount looped a double down the rightfield line, it was 6-0 and all but over.
Milwaukee still added four more runs in the ninth inning. Molitor finished with a World Series record of five hits and Yount, who followed him in the lineup had four hits. Caldwell threw a complete-game three-hitter and the 10-0 road win put St. Louis in a quick hole.
The Brewers looked in command for another reason—they were turning to Don Sutton for Game 2, who had been outstanding since his acquisition at the end of August and delivered great outings in must-win spots in the regular season finale and in the ALCS.
Milwaukee staked Sutton to an early lead, getting after untested John Stuper. In the second inning, Molitor continued his hot hitting, with two-out double that scored Thomas. In the third, Molitor singled, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a RBI groundout from Yount. With two outs, Simmons homered again. It was 3-0 and St. Louis was in serious trouble.
But in the bottom of that third inning, the Cardinals finally awoke. Dane Iorg, in the lineup as the DH singled to right. He was replaced on the bases by speedy Willie McGee after a groundball forceout, and McGee stole second. A double by Tom Herr scored St. Louis’ first run of the Series, and Ken Oberkfell then drove in Herr with a single to cut the lead to 3-2.
Yount chased Stuper with a leadoff double in the top of the fifth. Jim Kaat, a crafty veteran and former starter in his prime came on, but Cooper greeted Kaat with an RBI single.
Two months earlier the specter of Fingers might have started to loom in this game as it went to the sixth inning. Closers regularly came in as early as the eighth inning at this time and in a game like this, the seventh was a possibility. But Fingers had been sidelined with an elbow injury at the beginning of September, an injury that would ultimately end his career. The prospect of turning to him with a lead or in a tie game was not something Milwaukee manager Harvey Kuenn had at his disposal.
At a tie game was exactly what we had by the end of six. Oberkfell singled and George Hendrick drew a two-out walk. Darrell Porter doubled into the left field corner to score both runs and it was 4-4.
In the bottom of the eighth, Milwaukee had lefty Bob McClure on the mound. He could not get two left-handed hitters, as Hernandez worked a walk and Porter singled. Pete Ladd, the righthander and nominal closer came in and issued consecutive walks to Lonnie Smith and Steve Braun and St. Louis was ahead 5-4.
The inning might have been worse, but a line drive out off the bat of McGee was followed by Braun being called out after getting hit with a batted ball by Ozzie Smith, what would have been an RBI single. When Molitor started the top of the ninth with a bunt single, it looked like the lack of an insurance run might be big. But Porter completed his big night by throwing out Molitor on a stolen base attempt and closer Bruce Sutter slammed the door.
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Milwaukee was alive for the first World Series games the city had seen in 25 years, when the Braves played there. This writer was living in the west suburbs and was at old County Stadium on a crisp, but pleasant Friday night. But for Brewer fans that night was anything but pleasant.
Pete Vuckovich was on the mound for Milwaukee and facing Joaquin Andujar for St. Louis. Both pitchers put up zeroes through four innings. It was Vuckovich, the Cy Young Award winner, that cracked first. In the fifth, Lonnie Smith doubled with one out. An error by Cooper was followed by a three-run blast from McGee, a pure contact hitter not known for his power.
McGee wasn’t done. In the seventh inning, after Lonnie Smith had tripled and scored, McGee homered again. Milwaukee got two runs back in the eighth, when Cooper hit a two-run shot. But St. Louis added an insurance in the ninth against Vuckovich, still in the game. In the bottom of the ninth, McGee completed his dream night by robbing Thomas of a home run and the game ended 6-2.
Milwaukee had its turn getting a one-game lead in the World Series and then immediately taking the lead the next game. Now it was St. Louis’ turn to come within a hair of putting a chokehold on the Series, only to let it slip away in Game 4.
Moose Haas was an inconsistent righthander on the mound for the Brewers, and the Cardinals got after him immediately. Oberkfell doubled with one out in the first and Hendrick singled with two outs to pick up the run. In the second, McGee got rolling again with a one-out single and stolen base. A walk and wild pitch set up second and third. Herr then lifted a fly ball to deep center. It not only scored one run, and it scored both. Ozzie Smith, on second base, never stopped running and it was 3-0. Before the inning was over, Oberkfell had walked, stolen second and scored on a Gantner error.
The teams traded runs in the bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, finally chasing Haas with the score 5-1. Dave LaPoint, one of the pitchers Milwaukee had traded to St. Louis in the Fingers/Simmons deal was cruising along. He was into the seventh, got one out, and induced Ben Ogilvie to hit an easy ground ball to first base. And then, the roof fell on in the Cardinals.
LaPoint was covering first base on the grounder and simply dropped the ball. It was followed by a single from Don Money. With two outs, Gantner doubled to score one run. LaPoint came out and righty Doug Bair come in. He walked Molitor to load the bases, and Yount singled in two runs to cut the lead to 5-4. Runners were on first and third and Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog summoned Kaat to stop the bleeding. He couldn’t. Cooper singled to tie the game.
With runners on first and second, a wild pitch prompted Herzog to make another pitching change, this one in mid-batter. After an intentional walk to Simmons, Thomas—whose pop-out had started this inning—completed the rally with a two-run single to make it 7-5.
It was a stunning turn of events and the Brewer bullpen made it stand up. Jim Slaton worked two clean innings and McClure retired the last five batters to tie the World Series at two games apiece.
Caldwell and Forsch rematched their Game 1 meeting and this one was a much better game. The Brewers still got to Forsch quickly though. With one out in the first, consecutive singles from Yount and Cooper singled, an error on a pickoff throw moved both runners up. Simmons grounded out, but picked up the run and it was 1-0.
St. Louis finally solved Caldwell for a run in the third, when David Green—another player moved in the big trade between the teams—tripled and scored on a Hernandez double. Milwaukee immediately answered when Molitor walked, Yount doubled and Cooper picked up the run with a productive out.
Molitor was again in the middle of a rally in the bottom of the fifth. After Moore had doubled to start the inning, Molitor drove him in with a base hit. Caldwell wasn’t nearly as dominant as Game 1—he gave up 14 hits in this game—but the lefty was finding ways to work himself out of trouble and the game went to the seventh still 3-1.
The Smiths—Ozzie and Lonnie—started the top of the seventh with a walk and a single. With two outs, a Hendrick base hit cut the lead to 3-2. Yount promptly answered in the bottom of the frame with an opposite-field home run for a 4-2 lead. The Brewers added two more runs in the eighth. With runners on first and second, Moore and Gantner hit consecutive RBI singles and the cushion was 6-2.
Cushion was needed, because the Cardinals rallied in the ninth. Green and Hernandez hit successive one-out doubles, Hendrick singled and it was 6-4, chasing Caldwell and bringing in McClure. Porter singled. The lead run was at the plate in the person of McGee. McClure got him with a strikeout. Gene Tenace then hit the ball hard to left field, but it was an out and Milwaukee was now back in control of the World Series.
Sutton would get the chance to close out a title when the Series went back to St. Louis for the back end. But the future Hall of Famer just didn’t have it in Game 6. In the second inning, doubles by Iorg and Herr were sandwiched around a Yount error and the result was two St. Louis run. In the fourth, Hernandez singled, Porter homered, then Hernandez tripled and scored. It was 5-0 and the rout was on.
Stuper threw a four-hitter. Hernandez hit a two-run homer in the fifth and the Brewers fell completely apart in the sixth, as the Cardinals used five hits, two wild pitches and a walk to score six runs. Milwaukee avoided the shutout in the ninth, but that was their only bright spot in a 13-1 win for St. Louis.
Vuckovich and Andujar were on the mound, each with normal rest for Game 7. Once again, they both pitched well early and it was scoreless in the fourth when St. Louis picked up a run. McGee and Herr started the inning with singles, and then on an infield hit, McGee scored all the way from second.
After St. Louis manufactured a run, Milwaukee answered with one swing in the top of the fifth—Ogilvie homered to right. In the sixth, the Brewers took the lead. Gantner doubled, then Molitor laid down a bunt. Andujar came off the mound and fired an errant throw to first. It scored the lead run and put Molitor on second base, where he was able to score on a Yount infield hit and Cooper sac fly.
Trailing 3-1, the Cardinals came right back at Vuckovich in the bottom of the inning. With one out, the Smiths got it going. Ozzie singled and Lonnie doubled, setting up second and third. McClure was brought in for Vuckovich. A walk to Tenance loaded the bases, then successive singles from Hernandez and Hendrick made it 4-3.
Andujar gave way to Sutter in the eighth, and the Brewers couldn’t touch the St. Louis closer. The Cards still got two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, removing any drama from the ninth and Sutter closed out the 6-3 win and the World Series title for St. Louis.
Porter named Series MVP. The nicest thing I can say about this is that it’s one of the most poorly considered MVP votes in Series history. He had a notable night in Game 2, but for the Series he only hit .286 with an on-base percentage of .310. A far better choice would be Andujar, who beat the AL Cy Young Award winner twice, including in Game 7, and only gave up two runs in 13 innings of work.
The notable performers for Milwaukee were Molitor and Yount, who hit .355 and .414 respectively, along with Caldwell, who had the two wins and a 2.04 ERA and was only two outs short of a pair of complete games.
St. Louis and Milwaukee went in opposite directions in future years. The Cardinals returned to the World Series in 1985 and 1987, though they didn’t win it all again until 2006. The Brewers faded at the end of 1983 and collapsed in 1984. One organization produced perennial contenders and playoff teams, while the other only sporadically contended and didn’t even make postseason play again until 2008.
Their divergent paths ultimately re-united when Milwaukee was re-aligned into the National League for the 1998 season and the Brewers and Cardinals met in the 2011 NLCS.
The Division Series, the best-of-five round that takes place among the last four teams left in both leagues, came about by design in the realignment of the 1994 season. But more than a decade prior, the first Division Series came about by accident and it produced an ironic result–not only did the New York Yankees advance, but so did their old manager, who moved on with the Oakland A’s.
A players’ strike from mid-June to mid-August called for some creativity. MLB decided to have teams leading at the strike play those that won the post-strike period after starting from scratch. Out of the blue, everyone was told an extra round was added to the playoffs. Here’s a look back at the 1981 ALDS, who got there, and how it unfolded day-by-day.
The Yankees and A’s led their divisions when the strike began on June 12—with no Central Division in existence yet, there was just an East & West. After play resumed in August, the Milwaukee Brewers won the AL East’s second-half and the Kansas City Royals took the other berth in the AL West.
You can read more about all four teams regular season paths, the key players and decisive moments in their push to October at the links below. This article will focus on going day-by-day through the Division Series.
The 1981 ALDS began on a Tuesday afternoon in Kansas City, as the Royals hosted the A’s. Kansas City, who had won the AL West four times in the previous five years, and the pennant in 1980, sent their ace, Dennis Leonard to the mound. Oakland had been the superior team in 1981, with a workhorse starting rotation and Billy Martin as their manager. The A’s countered with young Mike Norris on the hill.
Kansas City got the first threat of Game 1, loading the bases with one out. Norris, pitching like a postseason veteran, got two Royal vets, Frank White and George Brett, to escape unscathed. Oakland quickly made KC play. Dwayne Murphy drew a one-out walk in the fourth, and then Brett committed a two-out error. Oakland third baseman Wayne Gross ripped a three-run blast and the A’s had a 3-0 lead.
Norris was only challenged one more time, when Kansas City loaded the bases with none out in the fifth. Norris got leadoff hitter Willie Wilson to pop up, and then a White line drive went right at Gross, who turned it into a double play. Murphy gave Oakland some insurance in the eighth with a solo home run.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 7
Both series would be in action today and Oakland-KC, being two small market teams, again got stuck playing a weekday afternoon game. The A’s sent Steve McCatty to face KC righthander Mike Jones. The Royals had gotten decent work from Jones in 1981, but turning to him in this spot underscored that both Rich Gale and Paul Splittorff had struggled during the season and why Kansas City wasn’t quite as good as in previous years.
Murphy again got Oakland going, this time right away in the first, with a one-out single. He scored on a double by DH Cliff Johnson. The inning might have been bigger, but Johnson mysteriously only advanced one base on a subsequent double, and Kansas City was only behind 1-0.
It looked like Oakland’s failure to make the first inning bigger would hurt them. Both pitchers settled in, and with two outs in the fifth, the Royals tied it on successive singles from John Wathan, U.L. Washington and Wilson.
But Murphy once again came through, this time in the eighth inning for Oakland. He singled to lead off, was bunted up by Johnson and scored on a double by Tony Armas. McCatty delivered a complete-game six-hitter and Oakland had come into KC’s house and taken the first two games.
The focus of the American League stayed in the heartland, but went several hours north, as the Yankees and Brewers met in the old Milwaukee County Stadium in prime-time. New York had a former Cy Young winner, lefty Ron Guidry, while Milwaukee would rely on Moose Haas, a consistent, if unspectacular righthander.
Milwaukee could hit, and they got after Guidry in the second, with a two-out double from Sal Bando and an RBI base hit from Charlie Moore. In the third, Jim Gantner doubled off Guidry to start the inning. Paul Molitor laid down a sac bunt that was flubbed and the Brewers had runners on the corners.
It might have been a big inning, but Guidry settled down. Robin Yount picked up Gantner with a sac fly, but at 2-0, the Yankees had the bats to bet back into it. And that’s what they did immediately, starting in the top of the fourth.
After Haas walked Reggie Jackson, Oscar Gamble went deep and the game was quickly tied. Then Bob Watson singled and pesky Larry Milbourne beat out an infield hit. Rick Cerone doubled to clear the bases. Haas was gone and the Brewers were staring at a 4-2 hole.
Milwaukee’s offense got Guidry out of the game in the fifth, when the sequence of a Yount single, a walk of Cecil Cooper and a base hit by Ted Simmons made it 4-3. New York manager Bob Lemon called in his hard-throwing young reliever Ron Davis.
The move paid off—Davis got out of the inning with the one-run lead intact and he worked 2.2 innings of perfect baseball. Milwaukee never threatened again, and New York picked up an insurance run in the ninth to win it 5-3.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8
Oakland and Kansas City were traveling, and New York and Milwaukee got it going in an afternoon game. Both teams sent lefthanders to the hill, although that was about all Dave Righetti and Mike Caldwell had in common. New York’s Righetti was a hard-throwing young arm. Milwaukee’s Caldwell was a veteran finesse pitcher. Both were brilliant on this day.
The Yankees’ Lou Piniella got to Caldwell for a two-out home run in the fourth inning and into the seventh inning, the 1-0 game stood up, with nary a threat from either side. In the bottom of the seventh, Davis came on, but lacked the control of the previous night. Two walks and a single loaded the bases.
New York was stacked in the bullpen, and Lemon simply upgraded to closer Goose Gossage, a future Hall of Famer. With one out, Gossage got Yount to pop up and struck out Cooper. In the top of the ninth, the Yankees got a two-run blast from Jackson. The insurance runs weren’t technically needed, although they undoubtedly improved Lemon’s peace of mind when the Brewers got singles from Bando and Molitor with one out in the ninth. But Yount again popped out, Gossage slammed the door and with the 3-0 win, the Yankees joined the A’s in taking the first two games on the road.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9
There was no travel day for Brewers-Yanks, so this would be a doubleheader day in the ALDS. The Royals and A’s started with a 2:10 PM local start that was early evening on the East Coast, meaning it could swing into the Brewers-Yankees at 8:20 PM local time in the Bronx.
Kansas City turned to their veteran lefty Larry Gura to try and keep the season alive, with Oakland countering with Rick Langford, who’d pitched as well all year as Norris and McCatty. And Langford continued the trend of great A’s starting pitching.
The A’s gave Langford a quick run when Rickey Henderson drew a walk, stole second with two outs and scored on a single by Armas. In the third, Henderson singled and again took off for second—this time he was out…but for an error by Washington at short that kept Henderson on the basepaths. Then Wathan, the KC catcher, dropped a foul-ball out on Murphy. Then Murphy beat out in an infield hit, and Henderson kept on chugging all the way home.
It was 2-0 and Kansas City did not look like the experienced veteran team. Oakland loaded the bases with no outs, but consecutive strikeouts by the A’s weak bottom of the order forced Martin to try something improbable—Murphy took off on a steal of home, but it didn’t work. The Royals weren’t playing well, but they were breathing.
White led off the KC fourth with a single. Willie Aikens singled to right. White took third on the hit and scored on an RBI grounder by Amos Otis. But as quickly as Kansas City got on the board, Oakland had an answer, and once again Murphy was in the middle of it.
It began with a solo home run by Dave McKay. With two outs, Henderson again singled and Murphy slashed an RBI double and it was 4-1.
Kansas City didn’t go quietly—they got four singles in the top of the fifth, but the combination of Clint Hurdle being picked off, runners moving up just one base at a time and a couple infield popouts, meant no runs. In the top of the eighth, the Royals put two on with one out. Martin summoned Tom Underwood in relief of Langford, and he struck out the power-hitting Aikens who represented the tying run. Martin then turned to Dave Beard to get Otis.
That was the last shot for the Royals. Beard slammed the door in the ninth and for the first time since 1975, the Oakland A’s were AL West champs.
Could Friday be a day of a sweep on both coasts? The pitching matchup certainly suggested it. The Yankees had their terrific veteran lefty Tommy John, while the Brewers put their season into the hands of journeyman Randy Lerch.
But Lerch was terrific. New York got a run in the fourth when Bob Watson delivered a two-out RBI single, but even with John pitching great, the Yankee lead was only 1-0 into the seventh. And then the Brewer offense awoke.
It started small, with an infield hit by Cooper, but quickly went big, as Simmons homered for a 2-1 Milwaukee lead. Gorman Thomas singled, and was sacrificed up by Ben Ogilvie. Bando drove in the run with a single and Milwaukee had a 3-1 lead, with the league MVP—closer Rollie Fingers—in reserve.
But Fingers struggled in the seventh, and New York got four straight one-out singles from Watson, Milbourne, Cerone and Willie Randolph to immediately tie the game back up. Milwaukee could have been forgiven for folding—but they didn’t—Molitor homered to start the eighth and put his team right back on top.
Yount beat out an infield hit. John was removed, and Simmons again had a big RBI, this time a double for a 5-3 lead. Given a reprieve, Fingers rolled through the eighth and ninth. We would come back to Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10
Milwaukee’s Pete Vuckovich was a year away from an 18-win Cy Young season. He shouldered his team’s fate against New York’s Rick Reuschel, who had been the ace of some disappointing Cubs’ teams in the late 1970s and now had the chance to be on the October stage.
Both pitchers rolled through three innings and the Brewers began chipping away in the fourth. Molitor and Yount both singled. A sac fly from Cooper plated the first run and Ogilvie’s two-out double staked Vuckovich to a 2-zip lead.
An error and a double by Dave Winfield gave the Yankees second and third with no outs in the sixth. Vuckovich was removed for lefthander Jamie Easterly. It wasn’t a long or noteworthy career for Easterly, but this is at or near the top of his greatest moments.
He struck out Jackson, and even though Piniella picked up one run with an RBI groundout, Easterly had maintained the lead.
And a Brewer tag-team of Jim Slaton from the right side, Bob McClure from the left and eventually Fingers, slammed the door. Milwaukee won 2-1 and this strange series, with the road team winning every game, would go to a decisive finale on Sunday night.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11
It was a Hass-Guidry rematch and the Brewers again showed they could hit the renowned Yankee ace. Thomas homered in the second. In the third, utility man Ed Romero singled, Molitor walked, Young legged out an infield hit, Cooper picked up the RBI with a sac fly and it was 2-0…just like it had been in Game 1.
And just like the opener, Haas couldn’t hold the lead and it was the fourth inning, with the Jackson/Gamble duo doing the Brewer pitcher in. It began with a leadoff single from Milbourne. Jackson then went deep tie the game and Gamble immediately followed with a home run to put New York on top.
Haas was gone and Caldwell was in, but the Brewer lefty didn’t have the stuff of Game 2. Graig Nettles and Watson each singled and with runners on the corners, Rick Cerone picked up the RBI with a productive groundball.
It was still only 4-2, and just like Game 1, the Brewers got a run back. In the seventh inning, with Righetti on for Guidry, Yount tripled and came in on a Cooper base hit. But New York immediately answered when Cerone took Slaton deep.
In a battle of teams with great closers, it was New York who turned a lead over to Gossage, while Fingers could only watch. The Goose gave up a couple walks in the eighth, but got Don Money to fly out and keep the 5-3 lead. New York tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the inning, and it was all over, but the shouting, ending 7-3.
Both series of the 1981 ALDS had been taken by the first-half winners, as the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s advanced to the American League Championship Series.
1981 DIVISION SERIES MVPS
This wasn’t an official award then, nor is it today, but it should be. So let’s rectify the omission and give out some hardware. In the Oakland-KC series, Dwayne Murphy is an easy choice. He was 6-for-11 and there was no significant A’s rally that Murphy didn’t have his hands in.
The New York-Milwaukee series has three worthwhile candidates. Gamble went 5-for-9 and hit two home runs, both in decisive spots of the series opener and closer. Righetti won two games—he came on in the fifth inning of Game 5 and got the win in that game and pitched brilliantly in nine total innings.
But the overriding factor in this series was the dominance of the New York bullpen. Gossage saved all three New York victories and they were all legitimate saves (i.e., none of this stuff were you get three easy outs with a three-run lead). The Goose pitched multiple innings in close games. In 6.2 IP of work, he shut out a great offensive team and only gave up three hits. He would be my choice.
THE AFTERMATH FOR THE VANQUISHED
Milwaukee and Kansas City would each be back. The Brewers built on the postseason experience gained, won the AL East in 1982 and reached the World Series, losing a good seven-game Fall Classic to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royals were a steady organization and though it took a couple more years, they again won the AL West in 1984. One year later, Kansas City saw its dreams come true, with a World Series victory over St. Louis.
THE AFTERMATH FOR THE VICTORIOUS
New York and Oakland’s ALCS matchup featured two good games, but the Yankees won both of those, and took home the pennant in a three-game sweep.
The Yankees then won the first two games of the World Seriesat home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the trip west proved their undoing. New York lost three consecutive one-run games and then were blown out on their home field in Game 6.
Most surprising is that the Yankees and A’s disappeared from the October stage for several years. New York fielded pretty good teams in the coming years, but not up to the usual standards of this franchise and they didn’t make the postseason until the new alignment and wild-card era began in 1995.
Oakland fell completely off the map, as their starting pitching burned out, Martin burned out and the A’s disappeared until a new cast of characters emerged later in the decade. Neither disappearing act would have been expected when the Yankees and A’s were pouring champagne at the end of the 1981 ALDS.
The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers felt like they were coming into a must-win season, after reaching the expanded playoffs in the strike year of 1981, but losing to the New York Yankees. The Brewers were stacked with veterans, in the everyday lineup and in the rotation and if they were going to make the franchise’s first World Series it was now or never.
Milwaukee did it with a potent offense. They led the American League in runs scored and did by simply bashing home runs. The Brewers went deep 216 times and finished first in the AL in slugging percentage, making up for a more average #6 ranking in the league in on-base percentage
Cecil Cooper at first base, Ben Ogilvie in left field and Gorman Thomas in center all hit 30-plus homers. Ted Simmons, the veteran catcher hit 32. Even the leadoff hitter, Paul Molitor, popped 19. And Molitor was a great table-setter, with a .366 OPB and stealing 41 bases. If you got to the bottom of the order, second baseman Jim Gantner wasn’t exactly an easy out—he hit .295.
But no one was better than Robin Yount. The shortstop finished with an OBP of .379 and a slugging percentage of .578. Yount hit 29 home runs and produced 114 RBIs. His rangy defense was a big asset in the field, and he was a deserving winner of the AL MVP award.
The greatness of the lineup masked a pitching staff that was decent at best. The starting pitching had some good veterans at the top. Pete Vuckovich finished 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA and won the Cy Young Award, although that was as much the product of a relatively weak field.
Mike Caldwell won 17 games and finished with a 3.91 ERA. The rest of the rotation was a mishmash, with inconsistent veterans ranging from Moose Haas to Bob McClure to Doc Medich to Randy Lerch taking their turns on the mound. The bullpen was anchored by Rollie Fingers, who had won the MVP and Cy Young a year earlier. Fingers saved 29 games with a 2.60 ERA. Between Vuckovich, Caldwell, Fingers and the offense, the Brewers had enough to win games.
It didn’t start right away though. There was a five-game losing streak in mid-April. Then on May 10, the Brewers started a stretch where they lost 14 of 21 games to AL West opponents. On June 1, the day after Memorial Day, they were 23-24. In this must-win year, Milwaukee was in sixth place in an AL East that was then seven teams.
The only saving grace is that the division leaders—the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox—weren’t long-term contenders. But the Brewers were still seven games out and the front office fired manager Buck Rodgers. Harvey Kuenn, the batting coach, was elevated to take over. And the Brewer season turned around.
On June 10, Milwaukee started a stretch of 20-8 and the offense was nicknamed “Harvey’s Wallbangers” By the All-Star break, they were 48-35 and had pulled into a first-place tie with Boston. Detroit had faded, while the Baltimore Orioles—the more feared long-term threat—was within 3 ½ games.
BREWER 6-PACK WATCH THESPORTSNOTEBOOK’S VIDEO DISCUSSION OF THE 1978-83 ERA
The Brewers stayed consistent through August, going 19-11 and arrived at Labor Day in first place with a three-game lead on the Orioles and were plus 3 ½ on the Red Sox. But the biggest news was developments in the pitching staff—one positive and one negative that took place as the calendar turned from August to September.
Fingers had been developing elbow problems and in early September he was sidelined. There was always reports he might make it back, but it never came and this injury effectively ended the career of the future Hall of Famer.
On a more positive note, help was on the way for the rotation. Milwaukee packaged up three prospects and sent them to the Houston Astros. In return came Don Sutton, a veteran of the excellent Los Angeles Dodgers teams in the late 1970. Sutton made seven starts for Milwaukee and went 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA.
And the Brewers needed the reinforcements because Baltimore was coming. The Red Sox faded in September and on the season’s penultimate weekend, Milwaukee was still holding a three-game lead, but there were seven games with the Orioles on deck in the ten days. It started with a three-game series in old County Stadium in Milwaukee.
Baltimore got to Sutton for four runs in the first inning of the opener, but Yount answered with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. The Brewers tied it by the third, scored five times in the fourth and won 15-6. But on Saturday, the Orioles again grabbed four in the first and this time there was no comeback. Baltimore won the finale on Sunday and the Milwaukee lead was down to two games.
Milwaukee took two of three in Fenway Park, nudging the lead back to three games. They would close the season in Baltimore, a doubleheader on Friday and then on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. One win would clinch the AL East.
Memorial Stadium was a madhouse, with Baltimore fans waving brooms and chanting for a sweep. And the Brewers seemed ready to roll over in the face of it. On Friday, both Vuckovich and Caldwell fell behind early. Medich got rocked on Saturday. The Brewers lost the first three games by a combined 26-7.
It would come to one game, winner-take-all. This had happened only once before in baseball history, where a showdown came in the last game of the regular season—the 1949 race between the Red Sox and New York Yankees. The 1982 showdown was even better—two future Hall of Famers, Sutton and the Orioles’ Jim Palmer would be on the mound. And Baltimore’s legendary manager Earl Weaver had already announced his retirement at the end of the season. It was a lot for Milwaukee to overcome.
Enter Yount. He stepped in against Palmer in the first inning and took a solo home run the other way. Yount homered to center in the third, and in the eighth inning he tripled and scored. The Brewers clung to a 5-1 lead with Sutton pitching well.
Sutton then walked two batters and gave a hit in the bottom of the eighth, to cut the lead to 5-2. Joe Nolan came up to pinch hit with two outs and runners on the corners. Nolan laced a low line drive into the left field corner. It looked certain to score two more runs. Instead, Ogilvie went sliding feet first and made the catch, as his legs rolled up the wall that was on the right on top of the foul line.
The rally was turned back, and the Brewers scored five times in the top of the ninth. At last, the AL East title was put away. Milwaukee’s sense of drama didn’t stop in the 1982 ALCS. They met the California Angels and the Brewers dropped the first two games of what was then a best-of-five series. They rallied and won three in a row at home. The pennant was clinched in an epic Game 5, when Cooper hit a two-run single in the seventh inning to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 win.
The Fall Classicwas a “Suds Series”. The Brewers met the St. Louis Cardinals, meaning the two cities known for their brewing industries met. And the drama just rolled right on. Milwaukee won the first game, then fell behind 2-1 in games and looked dead in Game 4. They rallied in that game, then won Game 5. Now they looked in control, but lost Game 6. Alas, this time they had pushed themselves to the brink one too many times. St. Louis took Game 7 and the World Series.
1982 was the last hurrah for this edition of the Milwaukee Brewers. They stayed in contention through August in 1983 before fading in September. The team collapsed in 1984. There was a brief flirtation with contention in the late 1980s and early 1990s with some pretty good teams. But October baseball did not return to Milwaukee until 2008, when they had been switched into the National League.
The Brewers didn’t make it back to the LCS round until 2011…when St. Louis again got in their way. The search for the first World Series title in franchise history still continues.