DENVER -- The Milwaukee Brewers busted out the brooms.
With a 6-0 victory Sunday over the Colorado Rockies, the Brewers completed a convincing three-game sweep in the National League Division Series and earned just their second trip to the National League Championship Series since 1982. The shutout was Milwaukee's 11th straight win and was followed by a raucous celebration inside the visitors' clubhouse at Coors Field.
"Two celebrations to go!" hollered veteran outfielder Ryan Braun, the only member of the current club who was present in 2011, the last time the Brewers won the NLDS. "We accomplished this by everybody playing to the best of their abilities. Everybody here is doing their job the best that they possibly can, and that's why we're winning baseball games. Nothing's going to change. The lights will get brighter. It's going to be more fun than we've had to this point. We're going to keep doing the same s---."
And just what Milwaukee's been doing over the past couple weeks has been nothing short of incredible. Following a 3-0 loss to the Pirates on Sept. 22, the Brewers were 2½ games behind the Cubs in the NL Central with seven games left to play. They proceeded to win out, forcing a tiebreaker against Chicago at Wrigley Field, which they also won. That earned them the NL Central pennant, a top seed, and an LDS date with the Rockies, whom they swept by a combined total of 13-2. If you're scoring at home, that's 11 straight wins.
"These are the moments you work for," said general manager David Stearns, who engineered a pair of blockbuster deals back in January, signing Lorenzo Cain to an $80 million deal (the largest free-agent contract in franchise history) and acquiring fellow outfielder Christian Yelich from the Marlins for a quartet of prospects. "These are the moments you're looking to get ..." But before Stearns could finish his sentence, he was doused with ice-cold beer, courtesy of outfielder Keon Broxton. Once the deluge subsided, Stearns continued. "To have the organization get to a point like this, where you can enjoy a couple of these celebrations, it's special," he said. "This is the goal. When you pick up players like that, the goal is to win a World Series."
In order to win the first championship in franchise history, Milwaukee will first have to get past the winner of the Dodgers-Braves series in the NLCS. As hot as the Brewers have been, they couldn't care less which team is in the opposing dugout come Friday's Game 1.
"Don't care," said reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who's part of a bullpen that posted a 3.47 ERA during the regular season, second-lowest in the National League. The pen has been even better in October, working to a 0.96 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 18⅔ innings between the Cubs tiebreaker and the LDS. "But if I had to go to a city, L.A. is nice."
Whether the Brewers draw Los Angeles or Atlanta as their next opponent, they'll have the luxury of four days' rest, thanks to their sweep of Colorado. Not to mention, home-field advantage. It's a position in which few, if any, expected Milwaukee to find itself.
"Nobody picked us to win the division," Braun said. "Nobody expected us to get to the NLCS. I'm sure when we get there, nobody will pick us to win. But we believe in each other and we're playing our best baseball when it matters most."
Lately, nobody's been playing better than Erik Kratz. The journeyman catcher, a former 29th-round pick and lifetime .211 hitter who, at age 38, is the oldest player in more than 100 years to start in his postseason debut, had a team-high five hits in the LDS, including three in Sunday's clincher. The last of those was an opposite-field double in the sixth inning. After advancing to third on a balk by Rockies reliever Scott Oberg, the 250-pound backstop lumbered home on a wild pitch, sliding in headfirst to extend Milwaukee's lead to 4-0. As clutch as MVP favorite Yelich has been down the stretch, as filthy as the bullpen has been, as surprisingly effective as the injury-plagued rotation has been, it was Kratz and his mad dash that won the day. And then some.
Said Stearns: "That was probably my favorite moment all year."
An hour or so after that moment, Kratz, whom the Brewers acquired from the Yankees in May, stood along the third-base line giving postgame interviews. The unlikeliest of heroes, he soaked it all in as the lingering Brewers faithful showered him and his teammates with chants of "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!"
"Did they even know about me in May?" Kratz asked rhetorically. "No, but they love their team. They love their city. And to be a part of something like this is so awesome. The guys in the locker room are what make it all worth it."