Top Brewers Moments In Miller Park History: Braun Clinches the 2011 NL Central
By John Egan
With the renaming of Miller Park officially happening at year’s end, here at Reviewing the Brew, we’re going to remember the top Brewers moments in Miller Park’s history.
Starting on January 1st, the Brewers home stadium will no longer be called Miller Park, but instead will be called American Family Field. Despite fan uproar about the change, it’s going to happen. The stadium has been named Miller Park for 20 years and has brought some incredible memories to Brewers fans.
We are going to be remembering some of the most important moments that came from this stadium and tell the stories of these days. Let’s continue with the day the Brewers clinched the NL Central in 2011.
Braun’s Home Run Clinches the NL Central (September 23rd, 2011)
Ryan Braun and clinching the division were the stars of the show, but I forgot how many classic middle 2000s Brewers were a part of it.
Yovani Gallardo had one of the best starts of his career. He went 7.1 innings, gave up seven hits and only allowed one run. His strikeout total? 11. Francisco “K-Rod” Rodríguez got the final two outs of the eighth inning.
The game was tied 1-1. The only Milwaukee run came from a 411 foot homerun from Prince Fielder in the second inning. The Marlins had scored one run in the fourth.
The bottom of the eighth is when it happened. It didn’t start out perfect. Jerry Hairston Jr. was up first, and struck out. He was acquired near the trade deadline from the Washington Nationals for minor leaguer Erik Komatsu. Rickie Weeks was battling an injury, and Hairston Jr. was brought in as depth.
Next up, Corey Hart came up and smashed a double to deep left. Nyjer Morgan then walked. So the Florida Marlins walked Morgan, and then pitched to Braun?
Before Braun comes to the plate, let’s give you a background of where I was. I have a regular group of friends who I go to Brewers games with every year. We always pick Saturday games because it gives us more time to hang out, tailgate and enjoy the night. When did we have tickets? Saturday, September 24th.
So the night before, I went to a show at the Pabst Theater instead of trying to get last minute Brewers tickets. It was a show called “Stuffed and Unstrung”. It was an R-rated muppet show from The Jim Henson Company that was scripted, music and improv comedy. I recognized one of the comedians, Patrick Bristow. I talked with him after the show, was very nice and even got a picture. If you Google him, you will immediately recognize him. He has been in “Seinfeld”, “Friends”, “Austin Powers”, “Showgirls”, “Family Guy” and hundreds of others things.
Anyways, so my future wife and I then went to the infamous SafeHouse Milwaukee to catch the rest of the game. Yes, I did tell my future wife the password and yes, she messed it up and had to hula-hoop. We met up with another couple and looked around. Do you know what wasn’t playing on any TVs? The Brewers game.
What? This game was possibly for the division! So, we went across the street to another bar to watch the game because it was actually on. It was basically empty. We felt like we were in “The Twilight Zone”. Milwaukee had a chance to get their first division title since 1982. Where is this city? What is happening?
If was actually because of me that the Brewers won that night. Since I had tickets to the game the next day, I selfishly wanted to be there to see them win. I had several friends who were going that night, so I kept texting “Go Marlins!” over and over as a joke. Dumb move, John.
So with two men on and one out, Ryan Braun comes to the plate against Clay Hensley. Hensley had an ERA of 5.19 over 37 games in 2011, so it was almost fate that he was on the mound.
What happened next?
Braun hit a no-doubter three run homerun to left-center to give the Brewers a 4-1 lead. The booming crowd was chanting “M-V-P”. I was also chanting “M-V-P”, but in a bar with three people I knew, a few strangers and two bartenders. Braun completed the home run with a bat point to the sky and fling, and Brian Anderson yelling “He’s done it again” over the TV while he rounded the bases.
John Axford came in a man possessed and delivered the save. He retired the side in order, including a final strike out, and the Brewers won 4-1. The crowd, and my tiny bar, went nuts. But now we waited. The Brewers couldn’t clinch the division unless the Cardinals lost.
Everyone in Miller Park stayed, and so did we. That is when my phone started to buzz. “Go Marlins!” “Go Marlins!” “Go Marlins!”. Do I still get “Go Marlins!” texts to this day? Yes I do. A couple of my friends were legit mad at me for a bit. I thought it was harmless fun. Oh well.
A half hour later, the Cardinals game ended and they lost. A second celebration began, and blue and gold confetti came from the sky at Miller Park. It did not make it to my bar.
It was amazing to see on TV. There were basically tears in my eyes watching my favorite team finally win the division and have a shot at the World Series. I even said no to going to Vegas with my Dad, brother and uncles that year so I could save up for possible World Series tickets. I probably would have if I didn’t text “Go Marlins!”…
I wasn’t there to see them win the NL Central, but going to the game the next day was so incredible. They did a pre-game division celebration and everyone came in early for it. I’ve never seen Miller Park that full before a first pitch.
Plus, they didn’t really clean up from the night before. I still have a piece of that blue and gold confetti. And my tickets to those playoffs games, and the towels they gave away to fans, and the memories of an almost empty bar, and Muppets telling poop jokes.
I mean honestly. In my mind, if the Brewers ever won, I expected dancing in the streets and people going nuts. Instead, I had to search for a bar to watch the game. I think I even went outside quick to see if anyone was anywhere celebrating. I’ll always be confused by that moment.
It wasn’t what I expected, but I still remember like it was yesterday. Except for the name of that bar.