MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers clinched the fourth division crown in franchise history just in time for their fans to join the celebration.
Willy Adames launched a go-ahead home run in the first inning to erase an early deficit and Milwaukee never let that lead go, finishing a three-game sweep with an 8-4 win over the Mets at American Family Field in front of the largest crowd all year on a picturesque early fall Sunday afternoon -- and the final day of the final regular-season homestand.
Ninety miles down Interstate 94 at Wrigley Field, the second-place Cardinals won yet again, giving them a remarkable 16 consecutive victories. But from the Brewers’ perspective, it doesn’t matter anymore. With six road games to go, beginning with three in St. Louis, the Crew has won the National League Central.
Milwaukee is locked in as the No. 2 seed in the NL’s postseason field, and it will host the winner of the NL East in a best-of-five Division Series beginning Friday, Oct. 8.
“We all left the clubhouse [Saturday] night kind of yelling that we were going to clinch it today,” Kolten Wong said. “We want to do it for these fans -- they mean so much to us and have helped us through some tough times. So we wanted to do it here at home.”
“We're happy we accomplished the first step,” Adames said, “but we know we have a long way to go now.”
Adames and Wong scored three runs apiece, Adames had three RBIs and four Brewers relievers combined to scatter two hits in 3 2/3 scoreless innings, culminating with Josh Hader’s 1-2-3 ninth. With that, the party was on for a sellout crowd of 43,430.
Winning a division is always a cause for celebration, but it has been an especially rare event at home in Brewers history. They won the American League East in Baltimore on the final day of the 1982 season, and they won the NL Central in 2018 in a Game 163 at Wrigley Field. But before Sunday, only once, in 2011, did Milwaukee clinch its division in a home game. That clinch was secured by a Ryan Braun home run in the eighth inning of a victory over the Marlins.
“The fact that we got it done today, it almost worked out as good as we could have hoped for, man,” manager Craig Counsell said. “It was a special weekend here, a special weekend for Brewers fans. We gave them a great weekend.”
“It’s kind of fitting today that Brauny passed the torch to the next group,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said.
Uecker seemed to enjoy it as much as anyone. He emerged from the clubhouse drenched in champagne and beer, and he was pulled to the middle of the Brewers’ team photo. Asked about the moment, Uecker deadpanned, “I wish I could have been the last strikeout for the Mets.”
After Milwaukee celebrated its past before first pitch, some of the Brewers’ newcomers led the way in the division-clinching win.
Adames, acquired in a May 21 trade with the Rays to jolt a stagnant offense, drove in three runs, including his second home run of the series. That homer came after Wong, Milwaukee’s most notable free agent addition last winter, worked a leadoff walk in the bottom of the first inning -- part of a sensational series in which Wong reached safely eight times and scored five runs. And Eduardo Escobar, who came to the Brewers from the D-backs on July 28, made it a 5-1 lead in the second with a two-run single that capped a three-run inning, then reached base on Francisco Lindor’s two-out throwing error for two more critical insurance runs in Milwaukee’s three-run sixth.
“It’s what I signed here for,” Wong said. “I wanted to be on a team that went to the playoffs, and this team the whole year has been next guy up, next guy doing it. It’s been fun to be a part of a team and organization that produces guys who want to come out and compete.”
Those players were among the 60 who have suited up for the Brewers in 2021, blowing away the previous franchise record. The team was 21-23 when Adames joined the club in Cincinnati on May 22. That's when they took off, winning 11 in a row and 13 of 14 during one stretch in late June and early July before pulling away from the NL Central pack with a 19-8 August.
That cushion -- as wide as 14 games ahead of the division’s second-place team with 18 games to play -- came in handy when the Cardinals stopped losing a couple of weeks ago. Even with St. Louis winning 16 in a row, and Milwaukee dropping seven of nine before sweeping the Mets, the Brewers wrapped up the division with six regular-season games to go.
“We fought and fought all season to get to that point,” Wong said. “We didn’t take anything for granted. We kept our heads down and tried to create as much separation, and we did it.”
“It’s a 162-game season. The Cardinals are showing everybody that,” Counsell said. “It’s a roller coaster, always. But you get up in the 90s in wins, that means you’re doing it all year long.”
The Brewers are 94-62, two wins shy of matching their all-time record for victories.
“In baseball, it never goes as planned, right? This certainly didn’t go as planned,” Attanasio said of the run-up to this final home series, “but it couldn’t be better than this way. Also, I’m glad we didn’t back into it. You know last year, frankly, we sort of backed into it.
“This year, we took it.”