CHICAGO -- On Sept. 1, the Brewers were five games behind the Cubs, and it looked like Wild Card or bust.
On Oct. 1, the Brewers beat the Cubs to win the National League Central.
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It took a late-season charge capped by an eight-game winning streak and a 3-1 victory in Monday's one-game tiebreaker at Wrigley Field, but the Brewers are division champions for the third time in 50 seasons as a franchise.
After clinching a spot in the postseason last week in St. Louis, they denied the Cubs a third straight division crown in Chicago -- led down the stretch by leading NL MVP Award candidate Christian Yelich, who added three more hits and an RBI on Monday to become the first batting champion in Brewers history at .326.
:: NLDS presented by Doosan: Begins Thursday on MLB Network/FS1::
It's the Cubs who will have to sweat out the NL Wild Card Game presented by Hankook Tire on Tuesday against the Rockies. The Brewers will await the winner in Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Thursday at Miller Park.
"We said Wednesday night that hopefully this was the first of many," said Yelich amid the celebration. "Hopefully this is the second of many. It took us an extra game to get it done, but I'm proud of this team. This group of guys is something special."
Said Cain, who came to the Brewers as a free-agent signing on the same January day that Yelich was acquired in a trade with the Marlins: "We knew what we needed to do, and we went out there and accomplished it. That's the biggest thing. To celebrate, it feels great."
They had company at Wrigley Field, since a larger than usual contingent of Brewers fans made the trip, chanting "M-V-P!" for Yelich and lingering while players mobbed the mound after the final out.
"It's fun. They're passionate," said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "Wisconsin has passionate fans. When we weren't very good, I experienced their fans being here a lot. I think it was a good atmosphere, a great atmosphere, a fun atmosphere to play in."
The Brewers used the extra game to tie their all-time record with 96 victories, winning 28 of their final 38 games, 10 of 11 and eight in a row, including consecutive three-game sweeps of the Cardinals, to clinch a postseason spot for the first time since 2011, and of the Tigers, to force Monday's tiebreaker.
That run began back on Aug. 19 in St. Louis, where Jhoulys Chacin beat the Cardinals for the first time in 10 tries and the Brewers snapped a 10-game losing streak in series finales, prompting Chacin to say, "I think anything is possible now for me and the team."
It turns out he was right.
"All year long, they said we didn't have enough pitching," said Brewers owner Mark Attanasio. "Well, they all found out differently today."
It was Chacin on the mound again Monday as the Brewers faced their toughest customer in Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana, who entered the afternoon with the lowest ERA in history against the Brewers (1.60) among pitchers who had faced Milwaukee at least 10 times.
But Quintana yielded hard contact from the start, dodging baserunners in four of his five innings on the mound but finding an escape route in each of those instances but the third. That's when Orlando Arcia recorded the first of his four hits and advanced on the first of Chacin's two sacrifice bunts before Yelich roped a two-out single to center field for a 1-0 lead.
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Chacin made it stand through the end of the fourth, holding the Cubs hitless and facing the minimum until Rizzo led off the fifth inning with a home run so mammoth that no one on the field budged. It was Rizzo's 25th of the regular season and left his bat at 110.6 mph, according to Statcast™.
"I was trying to go up and in with a four-seamer, and it wasn't up or in enough," said Chacin, shaking his head. "After that, I didn't lose my focus. I knew I could keep it going."
He did, allowing no more hits before yielding to Xavier Cedeno, Joakim Soria, Corey Knebel and Hader, who completed a three-hitter.
Brewers hitters provided a lead in an eighth inning that began against Cubs lefty Justin Wilson with another Arcia single. He moved to third when Domingo Santana improved to 8-for-18 as a September/October pinch-hitter with a double, and scored when Cain greeted Steve Cishek with a tiebreaking single to center field.
"I was really frustrated early in the game," said Cain, who grounded out and flied out in a pair of earlier opportunities with a runner in scoring position. "That really ticks me off when I can't get the runner in. I was going to do anything possible to come through in that situation for the boys. I was fired up."
Two batters later, Braun hit another RBI single for insurance and raised his right arm in the air on the way to first base.
"Big players perform on big stages," said general manager David Stearns, who took over three years ago amid a Brewers rebuild, even if he never used that word.
Now those big players can watch the Wild Card Games on television. The Brewers are on to the NLDS.
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"Thinking back now, these guys in this room always believed that we were gunning for the division," said Stearns. "You never heard talk about 'Wild Card' in this room, which was pretty remarkable. We were back five games at some point in September. The guys in here kept their sights on the division. That served us well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Soria strikes out Baez: Chacin erased a leadoff walk in the sixth by inducing a 1-4-3 double play from Willson Contreras, but with lefty Daniel Murphy about to begin the Cubs' third time through the order, the percentages said it was time for a pitching change. So the Brewers asked for one out from lefty Cedeno, who has been excellent since coming to Milwaukee in an Aug. 31 trade with the White Sox. But he surrendered Murphy's sharp single before walking Benjamin Zobrist on four pitches. With NL RBI leader Javier Baez due next, another reliever acquired from the White Sox, Soria, took over and came back from a 3-1 count to strike out Baez swinging, ending the threat.
"We needed to stop that momentum that they had," said Soria. "This is what I came here for, to win the division first, and then win the championship."
Hader closes it out: Hader, who was not sharp Friday against the Tigers on one day of rest, emptied the tank Monday with 35 pitches, including his four fastest pitches of the year in the eighth, topping out at 99.2 mph, according to Statcast™. His previous season high was 98.4 mph, and his career high was 98.5 mph. It wasn't until the end of that inning that Hader learned he was headed back out for the ninth against the top of Chicago's order.
Hader got the job done despite a two-out single for Baez that brought up Rizzo, the only left-handed hitter to hit a home run off him, and a familiar foe all season. On the fourth pitch, Rizzo lifted a routine fly ball to right fielder Keon Broxton, and the celebration was on.
"Adrenaline took it over," Hader said. "There's no tank, there's no gauge for that. I just made it happen. [Rizzo] has been a good at-bat. It was nice to have him for that last out to take it."
The eight-game winning streak to win the division matched the Brewers' season high and set a franchise record to close a season. It was the longest winning streak to end a regular season since the 2015 Cubs won their last eight in a row.
HE SAID IT
"I'm having fun, man. I'm managing the baseball team in the town I grew up in and the [team] I played for. It's a responsibility. You want to make something special for the baseball fans of Wisconsin. If I can play a part in doing that, it makes me happy." -- Counsell
"We've earned this as a group. Being able to do it in [St. Louis and Chicago] speaks to how much we've accomplished. Obviously, both of those teams are so good, they've had so much success. We're going to soak it in." -- Braun
Game 1 of the NLDS is Thursday at Miller Park at a time to be determined. The Brewers will face the winner of tonight's NL Wild Card Game.