MILWAUKEE (AP) — The postgame music was turned up a couple notches in the Brewers clubhouse. Finally, a victory to savor after a seven-game losing streak.
Yet for all the trouble on the field the last couple weeks, the tough stretch pales in comparison to what Milwaukee went through a year ago.
From All-Star break to All-Star break, the Brewers have gone from worst to first in the NL Central.
"I don't remember how many games we were out (last year), but I don't think we were in the race at all," All-Star third baseman Aramis Ramirez said after Sunday's 11-2 victory over St. Louis that gave the Brewers a one-game lead on the Cardinals in the division.
The first-place Brewers are 53-43 at this year's break. In 2013 they were 38-56, 19 1/2 games out and in last place.
"It was tough, last year was a tough year," said Ramirez, the National League starter at third. "Compared to this year, we're in first place. It doesn't get any better than that."
And to think, this season started with Brewers fans swooning for something other than baseball.
Hank, a cuddly white canine thought to be a bichon frise mix, walked on to the team's spring training facility in Phoenix and turned into a breakout star and unofficial team mascot.
A Hank T-shirt day is planned for next month, and a "Bobble-Hank" doll giveaway day planned for September is already sold out. But other than the ubiquitous merchandise, Hank-mania for now has retreated to the background.
In a way, Hank did his job in the spring by bringing positive national exposure to the Brewers at a time when "candidly there wasn't a lot of buzz about the team," chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger said.
Hank had even relegated the return of slugger Ryan Braun to the team into a footnote. Last July after the break, Major League Baseball handed down its 50-game suspension of Braun as part of the Biogenesis doping scandal.
"Everybody loves a homeless dog. He's a nice pup, and yeah that helped," Schlesinger said when asked if the pup unintentionally became a welcome distraction. "I would say a lot of the factors have helped — but candidly, it's the team playing well."
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