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Cheers! Top 5 moments in Miller Park history

December 30, 2020

MILWAUKEE -- So long, Miller Park. Welcome to American Family Field. The home of the Brewers has a new name as of Jan. 1, 2021, as a new naming rights agreement with Madison, Wis.-based American Family Insurance kicks in. It ends a 20-year run of Miller Park, and while the

MILWAUKEE -- So long, Miller Park. Welcome to American Family Field.

The home of the Brewers has a new name as of Jan. 1, 2021, as a new naming rights agreement with Madison, Wis.-based American Family Insurance kicks in. It ends a 20-year run of Miller Park, and while the change will take some getting used to, the stadium remains and so do the memories. Here are our picks for the top moments in Miller Park history.

1) The 2008 finale
Sept. 28, 2008 -- 3-1 win over Cubs

There were big moments before and after, but Miller Park never shook with pure joy like it did on this Sunday afternoon. Perhaps it was joy mixed with relief, since the Brewers were going on 26 years since they last made the postseason, and now their National League Wild Card hopes hung on the thinnest of lines. Manager Ned Yost had been dismissed with 12 regular-season games to go. The Crew won just enough under interim skipper Dale Sveum to get the job done, and of course it was left-hander CC Sabathia carrying the team to the finish line. Making the third of four consecutive starts on short rest, even though he was a second-half rental with free agency on the line, Sabathia pitched a complete game to beat the Cubs in the regular-season finale, getting the lead for the first time in the bottom of the eighth thanks to Ryan Braun’s go-ahead two-out, two-run home run. It was the most consequential home run hit by a Brewer at Miller Park.

After Sabathia induced a game-ending double play, the Brewers and a full house of fans turned their attention to the Marlins-Mets game on the scoreboard. Milwaukee needed a Mets loss. When that game ended, the celebration was on.

“I had tears in my eyes, I really did,” longtime television analyst Bill Schroeder said. “I’m not an emotional guy. But after all those years? I’m telling you, even in ‘05 when we guaranteed a .500 season, that was emotional. We had some bad years. Some really bad years. We had a lot more bad years than good. In 2002, 106 losses, that was as bad as it gets. So that day in ‘08, that was my favorite sports moment. I’m not talking about my broadcasting career, I’m talking about my sports career. Everything. It doesn’t compare to that day. To this day when I think about it, I get fired up. I don’t want to forget that moment and how we felt.”

2) 2011 NL Division Series Game 5
Oct. 7, 2011 -- 3-2 win over D-backs

After a rare blown save in the ninth inning -- on a bunt hit, of all things -- Brewers closer John Axford held the tie, then pitched a scoreless 10th to set up a walk-off win in this decisive game of the best-of-five series. Carlos Gómez knocked a one-out single off J.J. Putz and stole second base even though the D-backs and the rest of the stadium knew Gómez was going to try to do it. That put the winning run in scoring position for colorful outfielder Nyjer Morgan, who was 2-for-15 in the series as he dug into the batter’s box. Five innings earlier, Morgan snapped his bat over his knee after a popout. And the inning after that, he misplayed a line drive.

“I remember him sitting on the bench with his head down,” said Martín Maldonado, a rookie catcher who was with the team throughout that postseason but was not active. “I was sitting right there. Gómez walked by and said, ‘Buddy, put your head up. You’re going to be part of us winning this game.’ Two innings later -- boom.”

“Boom” might be a bit strong. Morgan instead “tickled” a base hit -- his word -- right up the middle. Gómez raced home with the winning run. For the first time in 29 years, the Brewers had triumphed in a postseason series.

3) The inaugural opener
April 6, 2001 -- 5-4 win over Reds

There were more important Brewers victories at Miller Park and more dramatic ones, too. But the sense of hope that washed over the new stadium made this one special. Following a bitter fight to secure funding for Miller Park, and a tragic crane collapse in 1999 that resulted in the deaths of three ironworkers and delayed construction by a year, the Brewers opened their new home against the same team that helped close County Stadium -- the Reds.

President George W. Bush and Brewers founder Bud Selig threw ceremonial first pitches before Jeff D’Amico did it for real against Cincinnati leadoff man Barry Larkin. Ronnie Belliard was the first Brewers batter, José Hernández collected the first Brewers hit (a double) and Jeromy Burnitz hit the first Brewers home run. It was a 4-4 game in the bottom of the eighth inning when Richie Sexson delivered the night’s signature moment, a tiebreaking home run that sailed toward Bernie Brewer’s new perch atop the left-field bleachers. When David Weathers pitched a perfect ninth, it was a 5-4 win. After so many tough years, the Brewers looked pretty good.

“Opening Day in any ballpark in any year, no matter how old you get, there are nerves, there is anticipation, but it amplifies when there’s a new stadium,” Sexson said. “It was beautiful. Having the president there, being in a new ballpark and having the city be super excited about it and behind it, it was exciting.

“You always want to win that first home game, too. If you’re building a new stadium, you don’t want to get your butt kicked that first night. So we were all trying really, really hard.”

4) Woodruff off Kershaw
Oct. 12, 2018 -- 6-5 win over Dodgers

Brandon Woodruff didn’t just hit a home run off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, he crushed it. Woodruff’s 407-footer in Game 1 of the 2018 NL Championship Series sparked the Brewers in their 12th consecutive win. That streak included eight straight wins to end the regular season, capped by a thriller over the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Game 163, then three more wins in an NLDS sweep of the Rockies (including a Game 1 walk-off at Miller Park). The Dodgers scored first in Game 1 of the NLCS, but Woodruff’s blast leading off the third gave the Brewers the first of five runs in the span of two innings.

"He was fired up coming around home. He almost broke my arm," said Lorenzo Cain, who led the Brewers with three hits that night. "If you look at the replay, it was a pretty strong high five. … He got the team going, and that's exactly what we needed."

5) 2002 All-Star Game
July 9, 2002 -- 7-7 tie

A thunderstorm ruined the outdoor portion of that year’s All-Star Gala and sprung a giant leak in Miller Park’s roof during the Home Run Derby. The next night, fans grumbled when the All-Star Game ended in a tie because both teams had run out of pitchers. So why is this on a list of the top Miller Park moments? Because despite the result, the game was an absolute classic that showcased the stadium for the whole world -- and more than that, it prompted a change to the way the event was played.

The morning of game day, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story examined the loss of competitive edge in the All-Star Game, which proved prescient when managers Joe Torre of the American League and Bob Brenly of the National League did what all All-Star Game managers did at the time -- got everybody onto the field. There was plenty of action, starting in the bottom of the first when Twins center fielder Torii Hunter made a leaping catch to rob Giants slugger Barry Bonds of a home run to end the inning and found himself slung over Bonds’ shoulder before he could make it back to the dugout. Two innings later, Bonds hit one out of Hunter’s reach for a two-run home run that gave the NL a 4-0 lead. In the fifth, Wisconsin-born D-backs catcher Damian Miller doubled home a run to make it 5-2 in favor of the NL. It was back-and-forth from there, eventually ending up tied through the 11th inning.

It became a quandary. Both managers had exhausted their supply of pitchers, and Freddy Garcia for the AL and Vicente Padilla of the NL had already worked two innings apiece. Continuing to pitch would risk injury. So would bringing in position players to pitch. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, after consulting with both managers and league officials, decided to end the game in a tie.

“It was still great for Milwaukee,” Selig said recently. “I sat in my office in Milwaukee the next day with a lot of the writers who had come by, and I said, ‘Well, some guys are hoping I’m up here ready to jump out the window, but I’m not. And let me assure you that the fate of the western world hasn’t changed because we had a tie.’”

Change was afoot, however. The following summer, MLB opted to link the outcome of the All-Star Game to home-field advantage in the World Series. That rule remained until 2017.

The next 10 Miller Park moments

6) Mike Moustakas’ walk-off single in the 10th inning of NLDS Game 1 on Oct. 4, 2018

7) Braun’s go-ahead home run in the NL Central clincher on Sept. 23, 2011

8) Ben Sheets’ 18-strkeout game against the Braves on May 16, 2004

9) Bill Hall’s walk-off homer with a pink bat on Mother’s Day 2006 against the Mets

10) Braun’s walk-off grand slam to beat the Pirates on Sept. 25, 2008

11) Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder's first career homers in a win over Minnesota on June 25, 2005

12) Braun breaks Robin Yount’s franchise record for home runs on Aug. 19, 2015

13) Fielder’s “bowling ball” celebration after a walk-off win over the Giants on Sept. 6, 2009

14) Christian Yelich hits for the cycle for the second time in three weeks on Sept. 17, 2018

15) Randall Simon of the Pirates lands in trouble after hitting a Racing Sausage with a bat on July 9, 2003

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.