MILWAUKEE - Ryan Braun stepped into the box when a familiar feeling overcame him. Just like in 2008, the Brewers homegrown slugger propelled Milwaukee back into the postseason.
"It's not new," Prince Fielder said. "That's what he does."
Braun hit a three-run, go-ahead homer in the eighth with chants of "M-V-P" ringing throughout the sellout crowd and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Florida Marlins 4-1 on Friday night to win their first division title since 1982.
"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."
Fielder also homered for Milwaukee, which clinched the NL Central and reached the postseason at the earliest date in team history after waiting 20 minutes for the Cubs to finish off their 5-1 win over the Cardinals.
With most of sellout crowd still in its seats, fireworks went off again after the Cardinals lost and fans were showered with confetti and streamers.
Nearly an hour after the Cubs' victory, Fielder took a victory lap around the field, hugging several of the nearly 5,000 fans that stayed to party.
Braun homered off Clay Hensley (6-7) to end a 1-for-16 skid. He then pointed his bat in the air toward owner Mark Attanasio and the fans before rounding the bases.
"I definitely knew I hit it pretty good. It felt amazing," Braun said. "It just feels so good, all of us as a team, to be in this moment."
It was reminiscent of his 2008 homer on the last day of the season that lifted Milwaukee to its first postseason appearance since winning the AL East in 1982. Now, they're back.
"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.
In 2008, the Brewers waited for the Marlins to eliminate the Mets before they could celebrate.
Shortly after the Cardinals' first out, the team congregated in the Brewers clubhouse, passing out champagne and preparing for its second celebration in four seasons.
The stadium has remained packed even though this season hasn't been as dramatic as '08. Milwaukee built a 10½-game lead midway through August over St. Louis, and even though the Cardinals whittled it down, time ran out.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
"It means a lot, we've got a great team, the fans are with us all here," Fielder said. "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."
Milwaukee fell to the Cardinals in seven games in the 1982 World Series, but even that season they didn't have a home-field advantage like this.
The Brewers are 53-23 at Miller Park, one win away from tying the most home wins in franchise history.
Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo pitched into the eighth, setting two franchise records for strikeouts before leaving when Emilio Bonifacio singled and second baseman Rickie Weeks couldn't handle a throw that put two on.
Francisco Rodriguez (6-2) came in and struck out Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison to end the inning, pumping his fist and beating his chest after escaping the jam.
Corey Hart doubled off Hensley with one out and Morgan walked to bring up Braun. Milwaukee had been 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position before Braun's at-bat.
After fouling a pitch off and working the count to 3-1, Braun hit Hensley's slider to deep left-center field, hitting off the scoreboard supports, then returned for a curtain call from the crowd of 44,584.
"Ryan loves the big stage," Attanasio said.
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