“GET UP! GET UP! GET OUT OF HERE!”
With those words 25 years ago, Bob Uecker echoed the sentiments of thousands of Brewers’ fans as their team won an improbable game on Easter Sunday in Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
The 1987 Milwaukee Brewers are not on any list of greatest teams of all-time, they aren’t even the greatest Brewers club of all-time. That distinction continues to go to the ’82 team, whose members are still treated like kings in Suds City 30 years later. But the ’87 team has a special place in team history for many, many reasons.
The team was not expected to do much in ’87, they had limped home in next-to-last place the previous season. That cost manager George Bamberger his job with about a week left in the season, being replaced by Tom Treblehorn, who was still in the skipper seat to start the 1987 campaign.
The Brewers were a team in transition with familiar faces in different places: Robin Yount, long the star shortstop, was now in center field; His running partner, Paul Molitor was now relegated to the DH role much of the time; and Cecil Cooper – the RBI man in the middle of the Brewers offense for so many years – was 37 years old and breaking down as a part-time DH and pinch-hitter. The Brewers were projected to finish 5th or 6th again by most experts, but they turned those projections on their heads right out of the gate.
Facing the defending AL Champion Boston Red Sox at County Stadium to open the season, the Brewers swept all three games, winning the finale in a 12-11 slugfest. They proceeded to travel to Texas where they swept three from the Rangers, using their bats by outscoring their opponent 26-19. In the finale in Arlington, the Brew Crew scored three in the 11th to take a lead, let Texas score three in the bottom to tie it, but then got two in the 12th on a single by B.J. Surhoff to win. Surhoff was a 22-year old rookie catcher who would play a big role in the dramatic season for Milwaukee.
Moving on to Baltimore, the Brewers won the first two games, one in come-from-behind fashion, to improve their mark to a franchise record 8-0. The the third game against the O’s, Milwaukee continued their habit of dramatics in a series finale. Starter Juan Nieves – just 22 years old and in his second season in the majors – tossed a no-hitter in the team’s 7-0 win. Nieves used a dazzling fastball to mow down Baltimore’s lineup, which included future Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. The Brewers were now 9-0 and returning home with a three-game lead in the AL East.
Basking in the glow of nation-wide media attention, the Brewers didn’t flinch in the 10th game of the season, pounding the Rangers 10-2 behind ace Teddy Higuera. Though the Brewers were getting great pitching and playing good defense, they were also winning behind their trademark – scoring runs. Molitor, Yount, Surhoff, left fielder Rob Deer, shortstop Dale Sveum, and first baseman Greg Brock were all batting over .300 and off to hot starts on the young season. On April 18, with more than 39,000 fans in attendance for a Saturday afternoon game, the Brewers rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to win 4-3, as Deer hit his 5th homer in 11 games. Their record was now 11-0 and approaching the major league mark for most wins to start a season (13 by the 1982 Atlanta Braves).
The next day was Easter Sunday, the finale of the three-game series with the beleaguered Rangers. Texas built a 4-0 lead and held a 4-1 advantage entering the bottom of the ninth. Young lefty Mitch Williams, not yet known as “Wild Thing”, entered to close it out for the Rangers, but he quickly got into trouble, walking Glenn Braggs to lead off the inning and allowing a single to Brock immediately after. Cooper then flied to center and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine summoned right-handed reliever Greg Harris to face the right-handed hitting Deer. Bad move. Deer belted – we should say absolutely creamed – a curveball and sent it deep into the left field stands to tie the game. At that point it was pretty much impossible to hear anything in County Stadium. But Harris settled down and struck out Surhoff for the second out of the inning, setting up a matchup with veteran Jimmy Gantner. The little lefty drew a walk, which brought up Sveum, a light-hitting shortstop not known for his power. But this team and this season was obviously magical, and Sveum lifted a pitch from Harris on a line to right field that traveled into the crowd for a home run.
“GET UP! GET UP! GET OUT OF HERE!”
The nearly 30,000 fans in County Stadium were in a frenzy, Sveum skipped around the bases, and the Brewers were 12-0. Most improbably.
“That has to be the biggest hit of my life, ever, anywhere,” Sveum said after the game. No kidding.
There was little time for celebration, as the team was off to Chicago to face the Sox the next day. In that game they performed some more magic, coming from behind with two runs in the seventh (on RBI hits by Molitor and Yount) to erase a one-run deficit and win, 5-4. The victory tied the ’82 Braves mark for the most wins at the start of a season. The next day the White Sox cleared things up pretty quickly – scoring five times in the first three innings to end the Brewers dream run.
The homer by Sveum remains one of the most cherished and remembered moments in Brewers history. For as many people in Milwaukee who can tell you about the ’82 pennant-winning team there are just as many who claim to have been in County Stadium on Easter Sunday in 1987, 25 years ago when Sveum launched a walk-off homer to keep perfection alive.
The team started a four-game streak the next day and rolled their record to 17-1, but then, just as improbably as their amazing start, Milwaukee lost 12 straight games in early May and saw their record fall to 20-15, three games behind the division leading New York Yankees. Later in May, the group that came to be called “Team Streak”, lost six in a row and followed it with six consecutive wins. As the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays heated up, the Brewers became buried in third place that summer, which is where they finished. Molitor added to the team’s streak credentials by hitting safely in 39 straight games from mid-July to late-August.
With all of their winning and losing streaks, Molitor’s histroric hitting rampage, the no-hitter by Nieves, and the dramatic home runs and walk-off hits, the ’87 Brewers were probably the most thrilling 3rd place team in baseball history.