It’s September. Kids are going back to school, football is back on the TV—it’s still too darn hot, but we can’t have everything—and baseball games are starting to really feel like they matter. The slog of the season pays off with this. There’s a sound a crowd makes that only really occurs this time of year, if the crowd is lucky enough to root for a team that’s still in the thick of things, and historically, that crowd is not very often a Brewers crowd.
The Brewers beat the Cubs 4-3 on a walk-off fielder’s choice to move four games back of Chicago in the division and extend their wild card cushion to 2.5. And yes, it sounded like a playoff game:
“It was a lot of fun,” said Christian Yelich, an offseason acquisition and a new face around these parts. “It was a great atmosphere. Intense.”
But is it a rivalry? Brewers fans hate Cubs fans, sure, but everyone hates Cubs fans. Cole Hamels, an even newer face to the Upper Midwest, having come to Chicago ahead of the trade deadline, has been reborn since joining the Cubs, and was good in this one, allowing two runs over six innings and taking a no-decision. Hamels is here to tell everyone that this doesn’t fit his definition of a rivalry.
“When you have the majority of Cubs fans in the stands, I don’t know if that’s a rivalry,” Hamels said bluntly after the road loss. “They aren’t going to like me for the comment, but look at the ticket sales. When they start to get a little closer and their fans sell out, then I think that’s kind of the understanding [of a rivalry].”
“That’s the nature of where it is [the rivalry],” Hamels said. “It’s probably not going to sit too well with them.”
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There are some quantitative issues here. The Cubs have a massive fan base across the entire region, and Milwaukee is close by, and Milwaukee is the smallest metro market in MLB, and for a Cubs fan it’s easier and/or cheaper to get a ticket in Milwaukee than in Chicago. These are realities.
So too is the fact that these teams don’t have all that much of a history together. They met for the very first time only with the institution of interleague play in 1997, a year before Milwaukee jumped to the NL. They’ve finished 1-2 in the division just three times—the Cubs in first each time—and have never met in the playoffs. There’s just not yet enough familiarity to breed true two-way contempt. But games like Monday’s, and seasons like this one, are how it happens.
“For some reason, the games we’ve been playing against the Cubs, it doesn’t matter how it starts out it’s going to finish something like that,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “It’s been pretty consistent. You better make sure you have a ticket[.]”
The Brewers and Cubs have five more games this season—five more at least. Both teams and their fans would love to be the ones to ruin the other’s season. Sure feels like a rivalry to me.