MILWAUKEE (AP) -Thanks to CC Sabathia and
, it suddenly didn't matter that the
spent much of the past month squandering a shot at their first playoff appearance since 1982.
Sabathia delivered a dominant four-hit complete game in his third straight start on three days' rest, and Braun hit a tiebreaking
homer in the eighth inning to lead the Brewers over the
Milwaukee won the NL wild card less than a half-hour later when the
New York Mets
lost to Florida 4-2 - ending 26 years of frustration for the often-overlooked franchise.
''It's our time,'' Sabathia said.
Sabathia, who came to the Brewers in a trade with Cleveland in July, celebrated by climbing on top of the Brewers' dugout
and dousing fans with champagne.
Milwaukee will face Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. The NL Central champion Cubs will play the
Los Angeles Dodgers
It was a last-minute recovery for the Brewers, who took drastic measures after blowing the 5 1/2-game wild card lead they
held going into September: They fired manager
with only two weeks left to go.
But the details of the Brewers' wild ride to the playoffs don't matter now.
''As good as we feel right now, everything that's happened this month, everything that's happened this week is in the past
now,'' J.J. Hardy said. ''We're in the playoffs, and I don't think we could be happier.''
Neither could thousands of their fans, who stayed in Miller Park to watch the Mets' game on the giant video board in center
field and cheered wildly as the Marlins recorded the final out.
Streamers and confetti fell from the rafters and fireworks went off in the outfield as interim manager
and the Brewers began showering each other with champagne in the middle of the clubhouse.
Several Cubs, including
, sat in the Cubs dugout and watched the last few outs in the Mets game and the crowd's reaction. Cubs manager
avoided the on-field mayhem, but called to congratulate Sveum afterward.
''They took a tough loss in Chicago, Cincinnati beat them a couple in a row, but they bounced back,'' Piniella said.
Thanks in large part to their larger-than-life pitcher.
''Three starts, three days' rest, 115 pitches, he goes right through the top of the Cubs' order,'' Brewers principal owner
Mark Attanasio said. ''That's CC Sabathia.''
If Sabathia was feeling any pressure Sunday morning, he certainly wasn't showing it.
Sprawled out on a couch in the clubhouse, Sabathia boisterously debated college football with teammate
and flipped through channels on a big-screen television, eventually settling on ''America's Funniest Pets.''
Sabathia (11-2) pitched his NL-leading seventh complete game in just his 17th start for Milwaukee. The only run he allowed
was unearned after an error by first baseman
, and he finished with a 1.65 ERA for the Brewers.
''Now we just go out and have fun and see what happens,'' Sabathia said.
Sabathia struck out seven, walked one and threw 122 pitches. He got
to ground into a double play to end it.
''It was his game,'' Sveum said. ''It was his year. It was his two months. It was his game to give his as long as he could
possibly go. He was fine. He's just a special human being.''
Sabathia didn't seem to think pitching three times in nine days was much of a big deal. His teammates didn't see it that way.
''He's the best pitcher in baseball,'' Braun said. ''The best pitcher on the planet. He's our MVP this year. No chance for
us to do this without him.''
The Brewers couldn't get much of anything going offensively against Piniella's by-committee approach to pitching the final
game of the regular season - until Braun's towering two-run homer off
(7-5) broke a 1-all tie.
''I thought I got enough for it to be a home run,'' Braun said. ''I wasn't sure. Once I saw (outfielder Alfonso) Soriano's
number, I thought I was in pretty good shape.''
Conventional wisdom figured that the Brewers got a break by facing
instead of Zambrano on Sunday. But Guzman mowed through the first two innings, and the rest of the Cubs' bullpen combined
to keep the pressure on the Brewers.
Piniella used four pitchers in the first six innings, who combined to retire 18 straight Brewers batters after
's first-inning single.
Sabathia nearly homered himself with the Brewers trailing 1-0 in the sixth, sending a long fly ball just foul down the right
field line. Milwaukee came back to tie the game in the seventh, but left the bases loaded.
Sabathia made a stunning play in the field to end the top half of the eighth inning, barehanding a ground ball from
and throwing to first for the out.
Sabathia was allowed to hit for himself to lead off the eighth, and struck out looking. Cameron followed with a single. After
the crowd cheered as Florida's 4-2 lead over New York was posted on the scoreboard, Braun came to the plate with two out and
hit the first pitch he saw from Howry into the left-field grandstands, triumphantly holding his fist in the air as he rounded
Amid the celebration afterward, Sveum said he hadn't forgotten about Yost.
''I give all the credit to Ned,'' Sveum said. ''He's one of my good friends. Just some unfortunate incidents. I love Ned from
the bottom of my heart and I wish he was here right now.''
Notes: It was Sabathia's 26th career complete game and 10th of the season. ... Zambrano didn't start Sunday as the Cubs originally
had planned, but did make an appearance as a pinch-hitter for Guzman to lead off the third. Zambrano, one of the best-hitting
pitchers in the league, struck out swinging against Sabathia. ... The Brewers won 90 games or more for the sixth time in franchise