- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2008

MILWAUKEE | The words are tattooed on Dale Sveum’s arm.

It’s the same message his father used to deliver before games. It’s the same thing the Milwaukee Brewers’ interim manager scrawled on a clubhouse board Sunday.

“Give ‘em Hell.”

CC Sabathia sure did. So did everyone else.

Now Prince Fielder and these blue-collar Brewers, the guys who untuck their shirts after each victory to acknowledge a job well done, get to move on.

Next up, Game 1 of the NL playoffs at Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon.

“We didn’t take the direct path that everybody wanted us to take, but we took the fun path,” said infielder Craig Counsell, who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee and won World Series rings with Florida and Arizona. “We made it exciting.”

It was a long time coming.

Milwaukee hasn’t seen the playoffs since 1982 when MVP Robin Yount (now the bench coach) hit two home runs on the season’s final day to win the AL East. That squad also saw manager Buck Rodgers replaced with Harvey Kuenn as “Harvey’s Wallbangers” reached Game 7 of the World Series.

This season looked lost so many times, including May 1 when Yovani Gallardo tore a ligament in his right knee hurdling a baserunner in Chicago.

General manager Doug Melvin lamented because he’d no longer have his promising young righty to form a 1-2 punch with ace Ben Sheets.

But Melvin focused on finding the best rental after years of building a farm system that produced a lot of homegrown talent.

On July 7, Melvin landed Sabathia from the Indians for four prospects in what looks like one of the best midseason trades ever.

Sabathia (11-2, 1.65) has been dominant in every way, throwing seven complete games with the Brewers and winning 14 of his 17 starts. In his past three, he’s thrown 335 pitches - all on short rest.

Sabathia looked get stronger in each of his starts as the game went on, striking out 11 against Pittsburgh on Wednesday before a four-hitter in Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Cubs.

In the final inning, Sabathia was still hitting mid-90s mph on the radar gun, and nearly hit a homer himself in the sixth with a long foul ball.

“We’re never going to give up,” shortstop J.J. Hardy said.

Without the larger-than-life lefty, these Brewers would have fallen far short and nearly played themselves out of the postseason race anyway.

After being the second best team in the NL most of the season, Milwaukee lost four straight to the Cubs to end July and four more in Philadelphia that erased what was left of a 5 1/2-game wild card lead entering September.

But these Brewers kept bouncing back behind Sabathia and just enough power when it counted.

“It’s been a crazy week, crazy month, crazy year for that matter,” said Ryan Braun, who hit the tiebreaking homer with two outs in the eighth. “We really had to overcome a lot to get to this point. A lot of different guys contributed.

“It is really special. Nothing was given to us. We haven’t played great this month, but great teams find a way to overcome that and win tough games,” he said.

Actually, the Brewers had been downright terrible in September, starting 4-15 and costing Ned Yost his job on Sept. 15 before finishing 6-1.

“I sent Ned an e-mail,” Melvin said. “Dale’s done a wonderful job these last 12 games in a tough situation with the pitching the way it was. [But] this is a big part of Ned, too.”

Sveum, who played in Milwaukee until 1991, waited for his chance to help the franchise that drafted him in the first round in 1982.

“This is a dream come true,” said Sveum, who parlayed his pitching staff perfectly down the stretch after being the oft-criticized third-base coach in the 2004 Red Sox championship run. “It’s just a fantasy world right now.”

It sure helps to have Sabathia, who keeps adding zeros on the scoreboard - and to his potential payday once free agency begins - with each trip to the mound.

But Sheets, who started the All-Star game and is the longest-tenured Brewers player, might not get that chance despite years of toiling on terrible teams. Sheets says he’s likely done for the year because of a bad elbow.

Sabathia said he’d be willing to pitch Thursday’s Game 2, his fourth straight start on three days’ rest.

If he manages to make yet another short start, he could return on full rest for a potential Game 5, if necessary.

“This is big because the city’s been starving for this. Everybody’s excited,” Sabathia said. “This is unbelievable.”

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