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10/05/08 8:01 PM EST

Brewers reflect on season to celebrate

Despite elimination, team feels it is headed in right direction

MILWAUKEE -- The sun rose and set 9,477 times between Brewers playoff games.

Five days later, the wait begins anew.

The Brewers' first postseason bid since the 1982 World Series ended Sunday with a 6-2 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Milwaukee dropped the best-of-five series, three games to one.

With Jason Kendall's groundout to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, the Brewers' roller-coaster season came to a sudden stop.

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Too soon, many said. Left fielder Ryan Braun was among those who vowed the Brewers would avoid another 26-year drought.

"Obviously, the organization is headed in the right direction," said Braun, who will be part of that direction because he has seven years left on his contract. "Last year, we finished over .500 for the first time in 15 years; this year, we made it to the postseason for the first time in 26 years. Obviously, we accomplished some things that we haven't done in a while.

"It's hard to go from never having any postseason experience to winning a World Series. It really is. Last year we were over .500, this year we made it to the postseason, and next year we go deeper into the postseason. It takes time."

Thirty minutes after Kendall made the final out, players were already packing the contents of their lockers into large cardboard boxes to be shipped home.

After nearly eight months together, the Brewers were about to break apart.

"It's over," first baseman Prince Fielder said. "But it doesn't feel as bad as I thought it would."

That was because Fielder was adamant in calling the season a success, and in many ways it was. The Brewers won 90 games, more than 13 other National League teams -- including the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will face the Phillies in the NL Championship Series beginning Thursday.

The Brewers will be watching on TV.

"We took a step forward, and a pretty big step forward," said infielder Craig Counsell, who grew up in Wisconsin. "I think if you look at the big picture, you have to look at it like that. It just goes fast when you get eliminated in the first round.

"You want to be part of these games because it's a special time. When it ends, it feels like it ends kind of fast."

CC Sabathia, Milwaukee's sensational second-half pickup, would have started a Game 5 on Tuesday. Dale Sveum used Sabathia as a pinch-hitter in the third inning of Sunday's season finale. Sabathia struck out swinging against Joe Blanton.

Partly, it was a move to save his bench bats for the later innings. It was also a move to ignite a crowd that had watched the Brewers fall into a 5-0 hole.

"It went pretty quick, but that doesn't take away from the experience," Sabathia said. "Coming down the stretch the last two weeks, pretty much every game was a must-win game. We did our job to get in, and you can't take away from what this team did." Sabathia is a free agent and he could be gone from the team next season.

Ditto for Ben Sheets, who insisted he is entering the offseason with an open mind after eight seasons in a Brewers uniform, but fought back some tears when talking about the summer of 2008.

"Eight years is a long time," Sheets said. "From the team we were to the team we are, I think that's pretty big."

"Through all of the hardships you go through, you can forget about how warm people can be, how they can bring joy to your life. The blue-collar people here, they're pulling for you, because they understand what we did to get to this point was truly special."
-- Mike Cameron

When Sheets arrived in 2001, the Brewers had just moved into Miller Park amid high expectations. But they lost 106 games in 2002 and missed the postseason by two games in 2007 before finally breaking through.

The 2008 season did not pass without its trials. The Brewers owned a 5 1/2-game Wild Card lead on Sept. 1, but saw it vanish over the following two weeks. Manager Ned Yost was dismissed on Sept. 15 with only 12 games left, and the team replaced him with third-base coach Sveum. Two days later, Sheets' elbow forced him out of a start at Chicago and forced Sveum to move into "all hands on deck" mode in assembling his starting rotation.

It was worth it on Sept. 28, when Sabathia pitched a complete-game gem and Braun hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth to beat the Cubs. Fans and players alike remained at Miller Park to watch the Marlins beat the Mets.

The Brewers clinched the NL Wild Card that day. The following night, they jetted off for their first postseason in 26 years.

"It was a memorable thing to be part of history," said center fielder Mike Cameron. "To walk out on that field Sunday after we clinched, and see that joy, that's irreplaceable. Through all of the hardships you go through, you can forget about how warm people can be, how they can bring joy to your life. The blue-collar people here, they're pulling for you, because they understand what we did to get to this point was truly special."

Will they get back to this point?

"There's no reason why not," said bench coach Robin Yount, who has been part of all three of Milwaukee's postseason entries. "But it's not easy. It's a long, hard, grind-it-out process to get here. For eight teams, it works out, and for the other 22, it doesn't. Because it's so difficult, that's why it feels so good when you get here.

"These guys have nothing to feel bad about. You're disappointed it's over, but these guys accomplished something here."

Sveum gathered the team for a moment on Sunday afternoon before the doors were opened to reporters. True to form, he kept it short and sweet.

Sveum told his players: "Don't hang your heads about anything. You have everything to be proud of."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.