Fielder, Braun lift Brewers to NL Central crown

Prince Fielder sprinted back and forth from dugout to dugout,

trying to get to every single fan.

More than an hour after the Milwaukee Brewers clinched their

first division title in 29 years, one of the biggest

free-agents-to-be remained a very in-demand commodity for a city

that’s unconditionally loved its homegrown star.

This season was built for him as chants of ”We want Prince”

continued. Now, he gets a chance to take Milwaukee to a point much

farther than his first postseason appearance in 2008.

”We’ve got a great team, the fans are with us all here,” said

Fielder, who believed he’d be traded last season and received a

standing ovation on the final day last season. ”I’m just glad

we’re able to do it, we’ve got a little ways to go, but I’m going

to enjoy the hell out of this. Hopefully, we go all the way.”

Fielder homered to start the scoring and Ryan Braun hit a

three-run, go-ahead shot in the eighth to lift the Brewers over the

Florida Marlins 4-1 on Friday night to win the NL Central.

Braun homered to end a 1-for-16 skid amid chants of ”M-V-P.”

He then pointed his bat in the air toward owner Mark Attanasio and

the fans before rounding the bases.

”Ryan loves the big stage,” Attanasio said.

Braun said he expected to have a black eye after Nyjer Morgan

hit him with an errant elbow during the celebration at home

plate.

”I think for me, honestly, I live for that moment. You play the

game to have the opportunity to play meaningful games down the

stretch in September,” Braun said. ”I truly expected to come

through in that situation.”

Milwaukee won its first division title since capturing the AL

East in 1982. The Brewers reached the World Series that year,

losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.

They believe they’re built for a similar run.

General manager Doug Melvin said his goal coming into the season

was to drop confetti from the Miller Park roof again. In the

offseason, he decided to keep Fielder and built the starting

rotation by trading away his farm system’s top talent.

In the span of two weeks in December, Melvin dealt his starting

shortstop, backup center fielder, top pitching prospect, top

hitting prospect and two pitchers who projected to be no worse than

major league relievers.

The returns included 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke and

Shaun Marcum. Melvin said the Brewers were all-in – the way they

were in 2008 when they traded for CC Sabathia midseason.

The gamble paid off again, but it took longer than expected for

rookie manager Ron Roenicke.

Milwaukee remained in third place behind Pittsburgh and St.

Louis on July 25. Milwaukee then won 27 of 32 to take a 10 1/2-game

lead in the division.

Braun homered on the last day of the season in 2008 to lift the

Brewers to the postseason. That day, they waited about 20 minutes

for the Florida Marlins to beat the New York Mets.

”It’s eerily similar,” said Braun, who signed a $105 million

extension this season that keeps him in Milwaukee through 2020.

”Having the opportunity to watch the last couple of innings of

somebody else’s game feels almost identical.

”Obviously a little better, though, because we won our division

instead of the wild card,” he said.

The stadium has remained packed even though this season hasn’t

been as dramatic as ’08. Milwaukee built a 10 1/2-game lead midway

through August over St. Louis, and even though the Cardinals

whittled it down, time ran out.

”It wasn’t as bad because it wasn’t the last day,” Fielder

said. ”It was a little easier.”

The Brewers are 53-23 at Miller Park, one win away from tying

the most home wins in franchise history.

”It’s been an amazing two and a half months. We’re working so

hard, battling day in and day out. We played so many close games,”

reliever Francisco Rodriguez said. ”Now, we have to go

harder.”

The real party was just about to start as a crowd of 44,584 fans

watched the final outs of the Cubs-Cardinals game on the

scoreboard.

”Hopefully, there’s many more celebrations ahead but this is

one that we’ll all cherish, we’ll all embrace and we’ll all

recognize how rare this is,” Braun said. ”It’s not easy to

do.”

Milwaukee has made three previous trips to the playoffs, but

never was assured a spot until either the next-to-last or final day

of the season.

Milwaukee joined the NL in 1998 and watched St. Louis win seven

division titles while the Brewers remained mostly at the bottom of

the heap.

Things began changing when Attanasio, an L.A. investment banker,

purchased the Brewers in September 2004 from Commissioner Bud

Selig’s family and steadily raised the payroll, up to more than $85

million to start this season.

The homegrown talent has made a big difference, too, with Hart,

Braun, Fielder, Gallardo, Weeks and catcher Jonathan Lucroy all

part of the core group.

”For all of us to come through in a game like this,” Braun

said, ”it’s kind of fitting the way the season’s gone for

us.”