SI Vault
Steve Wulf
October 12, 1981
After 11 seasons of frustration and failure, the Brewers won their first playoff berth as bullpen ace Rollie Fingers shut off the Detroit Tigers
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October 12, 1981

Milwaukee Spells Relief R-o-l-l-i-e

After 11 seasons of frustration and failure, the Brewers won their first playoff berth as bullpen ace Rollie Fingers shut off the Detroit Tigers

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Still, there were a few pieces missing, like a relief pitcher. So last winter Dalton gambled away some of the Brewers' future to get his man. From St. Louis he acquired Fingers, Simmons and Righthander Pete Vuckovich, and in the 2-1 victory that gave Milwaukee the half-pennant, they were all heroes. Vuckovich, the starting pitcher, held the Tigers to one run in 6? innings, Simmons drove in the tying run, and Fingers got his sixth win of the year to go with his 28 saves.

Fingers was truly amazing in this, the 10th season of his handlebar mustache and the 13th of his big league career. He won or saved 55% of the Brewers' victories, and in the second half he was involved in an amazing 21 of their 31 wins and 13 of their last 15. His ERA in the second season was 0.72; it was 1.04 for the year.

Fingers himself is a little taken aback by his success. "This is the best year of my career, but I should have been doing this when I was 25, not 35," he says. "Maybe I get better with age. Maybe I'll be better next year. I doubt it."

Two years ago with San Diego, Fingers started experimenting with a forkball, but it wasn't until this season that he mastered it. The ball breaks down and in toward righthanders, down and away from lefthanders. He throws it about 33% of the time, mixing it in with his estimable slider and fastball.

Vuckovich and Simmons weren't too shabby, either. Cool Hand Vuke was 14-4; Simmons batted a disappointing .216, but he hit 14 homers and drove in a healthy 61 runs.

A crowd of 23,540 braved the 44� temperature on Friday night to cheer the Brewers. The Tigers knew they were in for a rough time when their bus broke down on the way to the ball park. In the second inning Oglivie drove a Dan Petry fastball deep into the rightfield stands to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, starter Moose Haas, who didn't give up a hit until the fifth, had the Tigers under control. Haas, a licensed locksmith, found a new key a few weeks ago when he started using a split-fingered fastball. He allowed only five hits and two runs and struck out eight as the Brewers took the opener 8-2. More important, he gave Fingers the night off. With Vuckovich and Jack Morris pitching on Saturday, the wind blowing in and the shadows creeping between the mound and the plate, there wasn't going to be much scoring. The Tigers struck first in the sixth. Kirk Gibson singled, advanced to second on a ground ball, to third on an infield single and home on another grounder.

Just as it seemed the Brewers would have to try again on Sunday, they loaded the bases on a walk and two botched bunts in the eighth. Simmons then hit into a force that tied the game at 1-1 and moved the runners up. Thomas followed with a sacrifice fly to right center to put the Brewers ahead. They had hardly touched Morris, but they beat him.

"As soon as Fingers struck out Whitaker, I wept like a baby," said Selig. "I tried to stand up, but my legs were shaking so much, I fell down. When the players came out of the dugout and waved at me, I wept again."

Inside the clubhouse, the Brewers, never having done it before, decided to overdo the celebration. Vuckovich and Simmons carried Selig through the clubhouse and dumped him in the whirlpool. Thomas made sure nobody was dry. The air was sprayed with champagne, shaving cream and spare-rib bones. Everybody had a cigar and a bottle.

"I've had wedding champagne, baby champagne, birthday champagne, but this is the best," said Simmons, taking a swig from a bottle of Taylor's New York State Extra Dry. "I've waited a long time for this kind of action, and I like it."

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