RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Baseball's National League Championship Series opened last night in Milwaukee, a night when the Milwaukee Brewers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 9-6. It's be 29 years since the Brewers have gotten this far in the playoffs, and the team's success is bringing a welcome sense of unity to Wisconsin. Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio reports.
CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: The last time the Milwaukee Brewers reached a league championship series, Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president and a prison guard-turned-relief pitcher named Pete Ladd was on the mound for the Brewers.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The one-two pitch, ball lined to Yount, short. He throws. It's over. The Brewers have won the American League pennant.
QUIRMBACH: The Brewers have had some exciting moments since then, but they've been interrupted by decades of frustration. When Los Angeles financial consultant Mark Attanasio bought the team from baseball commissioner Bud Selig's family a few years ago, it was suddenly able to afford some better players. Speaking at a recent rally, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin joked about having cash in the till.
DOUG MELVIN: I know there's a movie out called "Moneyball." Our version of "Moneyball" is I ask Mark how much money do we have. Let's go play baseball.
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QUIRMBACH: The investments paid off last Friday at Miller Park when the Brewers scored the winning run in the tenth inning in their clinching divisional playoff game against Arizona, sending Milwaukee fans into a frenzy.
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QUIRMBACH: The Brewers won all three of their home games during their divisional series, after having the best home win-loss record in the major leagues during the regular season. Milwaukee won 57 games at Miller Park and lost just 24. The team set an attendance record of more than three million people. Reserve infielder Craig Counsell says it made a big difference that even in a small market like Milwaukee all those fans came to watch baseball.
CRAIG COUNSELL: You know, in the world of statistics, people don't want to hear it. But, you know, you create a great energy and a positive energy and it helps. It helps you do your job. And I think it's helped us do our jobs here.
QUIRMBACH: Some of the best players feeding off that energy include sluggers Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, who are candidates for the National League's Most Valuable Player Award. Another is singles-hitting outfielder Nyjer Morgan. Morgan is one of several players who after a big hit do a muscular double arm flex called beast mode that excites the home crowd. Morgan says he's just trying to have fun.
NYJER MORGAN: It's cool for baseball. I mean, it's just you can't be so stuck up in the shell, man. It's a new age of baseball. It's not so plain black and white anymore, man. It's more colorful. There's more colorful characters out there.
QUIRMBACH: Morgan's antics don't always go over well with opposing teams, or the baseball commissioner's office. But Brewers fan John Wundrock says he's glad his club has some interesting personalities.
JOHN WUNDROCK: That's what it takes to make a good team and make camaraderie between the teammates and have them go all the way.
QUIRMBACH: Wundrock remembers 1982, when St. Louis defeated the then-American League Brewers in the World Series and hopes the Brewers can get some payback against the Cardinals now. It's a hope shared by Brewers fan and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who says amid the political turmoil in Wisconsin this year, the Brewers are bringing people together for a while.
MAYOR TOM BARRETT: So yeah, we could use a little unity in the state right now. So I think people agree this is a good time. Let's all cheer for the Brewers right now.
QUIRMBACH: For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.
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