Game 4: The Kid and The Hammer

MILWAUKEE – If the folks in Philadelphia are torn about making the choice between the Eagles against the Redskins or the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS, sports fans in Wisconsin are close to a meltdown. After all, just about the same time as the first pitch is thrown here at Miller Park at noon central time, the Packers will be teeing it up at Lambeau Field against the Falcons.

They love the Packers here in Milwaukee and all over the dairy state. In fact, when talking to folks around town this morning about “The Game,” we were quick to learn that it didn’t mean playoff baseball.

Still, they have a very significant baseball history here in Milwaukee. A scan of the retired numbers hanging from the roof of Miller Park proves as much. Paul Molitor and Rollie Fingers were as good as any designated hitter and closer in the history of the game. Molitor collected more than 3,300 hits during his career, was MVP of the 1993 World Series and guided the Brewers to the playoffs twice during his Hall-of-Fame career.

Fingers was one of the first closer specialists in the game and helped redefine the role. But more than just a one-inning trick pony, Fingers worked two or three innings in order to pick up a save. In 1981 Fingers won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP for the Brewers by posting a 1.04 ERA during the strike-shortened season.

But when one talks baseball in Milwaukee, the two names are Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. Aaron, of course, was one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He also played in Milwaukee for 14 of his 23 big-league season for both the Braves and Brewers. Better yet, Aaron led Milwaukee to its one and only World Series victory by clubbing three homers and batting .393 in 1957 against the Yankees. Aaron’s Braves got there again in ’58 but lost to the Yankees in seven games even though Hammerin’ Hank hit .333.

In 1975, the season after he broke Babe Ruth’s all-time, home-run record, Aaron returned to Milwaukee to play his final two seasons for the Brewers. But by then Aaron was in his 40s, winding down and hardly the same player he was when he came up more than two decades before.

However, one of his teammates was a young 19-year-old shortstop already in his second fulltime, big-league season. Eventually, Yount went on to play 20 seasons for the Brewers, won the AL MVP twice and took Milwaukee to its last World Series in 1982. He retired with over 3,100 hits and was an easy selection for the Hall of Fame in 1999.

But in 1975 the Brewers had the youngest player in the league with the teenaged Yount and the oldest with the 40-plus Aaron. Needless to say it was a curious dichotomy, but one that Yount, even at such a young age, understood completely.

“He was significant,” Yount said about Aaron as the Brewers took batting practice before Game 4 of the NLDS on Sunday morning. “Even though I was just 19 I could see how important he was and not just in baseball, either. He had already broken the record. I knew how big he was, but he didn’t come off that way in person. I mean he didn’t let it get to him. We knew all he had accomplished in this game, but like I said before, he acted just like anyone else.”

The humanness of the all-time home run king is what stood out the most more than 33 years after the kid and the vet joined the same team.

“He was great to me and being around him was a great experience for me. What I learned was what a normal guy the greatest home-run hitter of all time at that time can be,” Yount said. “You know that made a huge impression on me. Here I was a young kid, in his second year in the Major Leagues, trying to learn this business and found out that everyone is pretty much the same. You know… he treated me just like he would anyone else. He was great to me.”

Both were even better to the game and to Milwaukee.

The Phillies are mixing things up a bit with their languid offense.

11 – Rollins, ss
8 – Victorino, cf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
5 – Burrell, lf
28 – Werth, rf
19 – Dobbs, 3b
51 – Ruiz, c
56 – Blanton, p

The Brewers lost Rickie Weeks for the rest of the playoffs with a sprained left knee suffered in Game 3.

25 – Cameron, cf
5 – Durham, 2b
8 – Braun, lf
28 – Fielder, 1b
7 – Hardy, ss
1 – Hart, rf
30 – Counsell, 3b
18 – Kendall, c
37 – Suppan, p

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