Thank you, Milwaukee Brewers, for preventing the worst weekend in the history of Wisconsin sports. First, the ninth-ranked Badgers bumbled and stumbled their way to a fall-from-ahead loss at lousy Michigan. Then, the Green Bay Packers bumbled and stumbled their way to a mistake-filled loss at Tampa Bay.
But the Brewers – thanks to Sabathia and Ryan Braun – are headed to the playoffs.
It was an unforgettable if imperfect Sunday, with two eyes on the Packers, one eye on the Brewers and one eye on those choking-dog New York Mets. Never was it so good to be called a glasses-wearing "four eyes."
Here are the ebbs and flows, with the Packers starting at noon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., the rain-delayed Marlins-Mets game at 1 p.m. at Shea Stadium in New York and the Cubs-Brewers game at 1:05 p.m. at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
The fans are filing into Miller Park and the seats are barely warm in Tampa when Greg Jennings toasts Ronde Barber for the opening touchdown. It's 7-0, and it looks like it's going to be a fun afternoon for the Packers.
A little more than an hour later, right about the time Jennings drops a pass at the Bucs' 30-yard line that might have allowed Green Bay to kick a field goal just before halftime and cut the deficit to 13-10, the Brewers' Prince Fielder lets a groundball go through his legs. The error helps the Cubs take a 1-0 lead moments later.
With 6 minutes left in the third quarter in Tampa, the Bucs' Derrick Brooks nails Packers running back Ryan Grant. Jermaine Phillips picks up the fumble and runs for a touchdown to put the Bucs on top 20-7. At the same moment, Fielder strikes out to end the Brewers' fourth. He was the 12th straight batter retired by Cubs pitchers, and it remains a 1-0 game.
Finally, some good news. Aaron Rodgers throws a dart to Jennings on third-and-16 for a 48-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-14. A minute later, at 2:29 p.m., the Marlins pull ahead of the Mets 1-0 on an RBI single in the top of the sixth inning by John Baker.
As the third quarter ended in Tampa, the Brewers trailed 1-0 through five innings but the Marlins had the based loaded. Moments later, the Packers' Charles Woodson picks off Brian Griese and goes the other way for a 62-yard, go-ahead touchdown. In New York, a bases-loaded walk gives the Marlins a 2-0 lead.
Then, bad news from every venue in the span of 1 minute. At 2:43 p.m., Milwaukee goes in order in the sixth and still trails 1-0. At 2:44 p.m., Matt Flynn replaces an injured Rodgers. At the same time, the Mets' Carlos Beltran rips a two-run, game-tying home run.
At 2:58, the Bucs score the go-ahead field goal to lead 23-21 with 2:26 remaining. On the way to that score, though, the Brewers' Ray Durham connects for a double.
Then, disaster in Tampa, with Rodgers throwing his third interception of the game. On the next play, the Bucs' Earnest Graham rumbles for 47 yards to the Packers' 1-yard line. It's not going much better in Milwaukee, with Cory Hart striking out with the bases loaded. But, as Graham scores the clinching touchdown on a 1-yard plunge, Craig Counsell coaxes a bases-loaded to make it 1-1.
As they go to commercial in Tampa, it's 1-1 through seven innings in Milwaukee and 2-2 entering the bottom of the seventh in New York.
With Matt Flynn in at quarterback for the Packers, the Jets' Brett Favre throws his fifth touchdown pass of the day at 3:12 p.m. (He'd add a career-high sixth later.) As the clock runs out on Green Bay at 3:13 p.m., Sabathia strikes out the final two batters in the top of the eighth.
Then, at 3:17 p.m., former Brewers infielder Wes Helms hits a go-ahead home run for the Marlins in the top of the eighth. At 3:21 p.m., Mike Cameron singles for Milwaukee, and on the East Coast, Dan Uggla goes yard for Florida to make it 4-2. Two minutes later, Ryan Braun hits the biggest home run in 25 seasons of Brewers baseball, putting Milwaukee on top 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth.
At 3:33 p.m., on Sabathia's 122nd pitch, Derrek Lee grounds into a game-ending double play. Sabathia, with his second consecutive complete-game win on three days' rest, screams in celebration. Miller Park erupts in cheers, than does so again at 4:05 p.m., when the Mets' Ryan Church flies out. The Brewers win the National League wild card.
Meanwhile, the Packers are 2-2. Through four games, it's too early to be thinking about the playoffs, but the Packers must get their ship righted. Soon. There's no indomitable force like Favre or Sabathia. Rodgers' growing pains (and his shoulder pain) have to end soon, the running game must get on track and the defense must start playing run defense. If not, Wisconsin sports fans will be dreaming about spring training instead of a playoff run.
Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com