Braun hits the DL

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

BraunAs expected, Ryan Braun is headed to the disabled list.  The stint is retroactive to April 27, a day after Braun last appeared against the Cubs and strained his oblique.  He’ll be eligible to return on May 12, which means he will miss the entirety of the series against the Yankees.  Not exactly ideal timing.

The team has been playing shorthanded while they evaluate Braun’s health, but oblique injuries are tricky.  It became pretty apparent Braun would require a DL stint earlier this week, and it’s better to let the muscle fully heal now than have the problem linger through July or longer.  Logan Schafer was activated from the DL in a corresponding move.

This says nothing of the nerve issue in Braun’s thumb, which prevents him from feeling how hard he’s gripping a bat.  That remains concerning and will likely impact Braun for the remainder of the season.  It sounds like there’s no guarantee surgery will fix the nerve, and could take Braun out of the lineup for a very long time.  So for now, he’ll continue to manage the injury.

Reviewing a crazy week for the outfield and bullpen

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

It’s been a interesting few days for the Brewers. Injuries to Ryan Braun (oblique), Aramis Ramirez (elbow), and Jean Segura (bat to the face) have left the team shorthanded on the bench, and heavy bullpen use has left it short on relievers, too.

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Mercifully, Martin Maldonado returned from a 5-game suspension on Monday, only to find himself pitching on Wednesday in the final inning of a blowout loss to the Cardinals.  After an abbreviated start from Matt Garza and another three-inning disaster for the seldom-used Wei-Chung Wang, there really weren’t many better options. Most of the high-leverage players had been used the previous two days, and it made no sense to toss them in for mop-up duty. The Wang story has been fun, but instinct tells me it won’t last the year.

Yesterday, the Brewers somewhat addressed their reliever crunch by adding Rob Wooten to the mix, but at the outfield’s expense. Utility man Elian Herrera was optioned to Nashville, leaving Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis as the Brewers’ only true outfielders. Mark Reynolds started in right field in the first game against Cincinnati. If you saw Herrera play right during the Cardinals series, you’ll probably agree he wasn’t missed much.

Wooten, for his part, was a mess yesterday. He inherited a bases-loaded jam from Jim Henderson, who also gave up a go-ahead two-run Great American shot before departing.  Wooten walked the first batter, allowed a two-run single, and hit a batter before recording the final out of the inning.  After the smoke cleared, the Reds had scored five in the frame.

Fortunately, Segura and Ramirez both returned to the lineup yesterday. Ramirez went 0-4, picking up right where he left off, but Segura had a pair of hits and a RBI.  Braun remains out indefinitely, and my strong suspicion is that he will wind up on the DL tomorrow, when Logan Schafer is likely to be activated.

That doesn’t help much for tonight, though, so this afternoon the Brewers placed Henderson on the DL with shoulder inflammation and called up OF Caleb Gindl, who is starting in right tonight. If that seems a little too convenient for you, Disciples of Uecker does note that Henderson was again struggling with his fastball velocity yesterday.

The outfield crunch won’t be entirely solved when Schafer returns, as Gomez’s appeal of his three-game suspension for the Pittsburgh brouhaha remains pending.  Word is that will be heard on or around next Monday (UPDATE: The Brewers say it’s Friday), so don’t expect lineup consistency any time soon.

Tempering Expectations

Milwaukee’s Season Hinges on the Rotation

 By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

After a rough 2013 season for the Milwaukee Brewers – one that saw the suspension of Ryan Braun, the continued decline of Rickie Weeks, a regression in Yovani Gallardo’s performance, and a litany of injuries – it would have been understandable for Brewer Nation to approach the 2014 campaign with apprehension.

A 10-2 start has Brewer fans excited for 2014.

A 10-2 start has Brewer fans excited for 2014.

Then the first 12 games happened.

A 10-2 record, best in Major League Baseball.

A nine-game winning streak, including sweeps over the reigning World Series champion Red Sox and 2013 playoff participant Pittsburgh Pirates.

Cue the grand speculation.  There was some warranted attention being focused on Milwaukee, reminding fans that this team is not far removed from one that seriously contended for the National League pennant.  Sports writers from national sources and local publications were very quick to point out that this roster was not simply a flash in the pan, but instead was built for sustained success throughout the season.

Needless to say, expectations were running high.  The pitching staff – both starters and the bullpen – was lights out on the mound.  The lineup was providing timely hitting.  10-2.

And then the Cardinals came to town.

Not only did St. Louis stop the winning streak that had the entire state abuzz, they did so in a very Cardinals-y way, shutting out the Brewers at Miller Park, 4-0.  That was followed up with a 6-1 loss to the hated Cardinals.

All the “happy” feelings that went along with the nine-game winning streak had been wiped out in a 28-hour span at the hands of the team that seems to have Milwaukee’s number more than anyone else.

So where does that leave this Milwaukee squad?  Are they the team that started 10-2 with a pitching staff that could hang with anyone?  Or are they the team that gets crushed by St. Louis every time they play?

The fact of that matter is that they are probably somewhere in between.

Lohse's leadership has been as important as his consistency.

Lohse’s leadership has been as important as his consistency.

As of right now, the Brewers stand at 11-5, a win percentage of .688 through 16 games.  The early season success that the Brewers have experienced begins and ends with the pitching staff.  The starting rotation of Gallardo, Lohse, Garza, Estrada, and Peralta has an ERA of 2.55 with a 3.66 FIP.  Over 102.1 innings, they have recorded 85 strikeouts and only 29 walks.  The bullpen has been just as good, posting a 3.16 ERA with an impressive 3.28 FIP over 42.2 innings.

I’m not delusional; I don’t expect the pitching staff to keep this up over the course of the season.  In Thursday night’s 11-2 loss to the Pirates, we saw the first real implosion by the bullpen, taking over a tie ballgame and giving up nine runs over two innings.  The numbers that Brewers pitchers were putting up are simply not sustainable over a full season.

That does not mean that they can’t continue to be a point of strength for this team for the remainder of the year.  Yovani Gallardo has shown flashes of being a staff ace before, so while his 1.46 ERA and 2.89 FIP won’t be as impressive in July, he could still very well be leading the way for a dominant staff.  Kyle Lohse has continued to be one of the most reliable starters in  Brewer uniform for the second-straight year.  Perhaps more than anything else, Lohse’s leadership has been key in helping turn this staff around.  If Garza can stay healthy and Estrada maintains the progression that he’s made over the last few seasons, Milwaukee will have a pretty formidable one-through-four in the rotation.

Wily Peralta could be the key to a successful 2014 campaign.

Wily Peralta could be the key to a successful 2014 campaign.

That brings me to Wily Peralta.  I’ve been a fan of Peralta for quite some time; I always saw the potential that he brought to the mound.  He just had the pitching ability that the Milwaukee farm system seemed to lack ever since Gallardo was promoted.  His early returns have been mixed; he showed admirable durability in starting 32 games last year, but his 4.37 ERA and 4.30 FIP left something to be desired.

Through three starts this season, Peralta has shown improvement in some important areas.  He has lowered his BB/9 by over a full walk while posting similar K/9 numbers, and his ERA is a spectacular 1.96.  However, his 4.58 FIP and .222 BABIP seem to indicate that his success thus far is a product of a good amount of luck.

As the number five starter in the rotation, Peralta doesn’t need to have a sub-2.00 ERA; he doesn’t need to pitch like the staff ace.  Frankly, if Peralta can bring his FIP down closer to 4.00 and keep his ERA in the 3.75-range, Brewers fans should be thrilled.  If our number five is pitching like a three, we’re going to be trouble for the rest of the National League.

I could go on and break down the bullpen arms a little more, or I could discuss the possibility that Aramis Ramirez loves batting with runners in scoring position.  But, in all honesty, I think the hopes of a playoff run for the ‘14 Milwaukee Brewers begins and ends with the rotation.

If they can find a way to continue to produce quality starts even after the supposed lucky numbers stop going their way, the Brewers are going to force themselves into the playoff conversation, along with other National League contenders.

But, if Garza gets hurt, or Gallardo has his past issues creep up, or Peralta steps back to his ‘13 version, Milwaukee will be in trouble.  If the rotation struggles for prolonged periods of time, the bullpen will get taxed and start to break down.  If the pitching staff begins to implode, the curious struggles of the lineup will be magnified.

For the record, I think this Brewers team will challenge for a playoff spot.  I think they are capable of winning 88-90 games in 2014.

But any sustained success begins and ends with the rotation.  If that domino falls, Miller Park will be in for a long summer.

A Quick Opening Day Rundown, Or Why My Monday Was Probably Better Than Yours

by Kevin Kimmes

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Please don’t take the title of this article too seriously. I just really love Opening Day. So here’s a quick rundown of my highlights from Miller Park.

Win a ticket to Opening Day:

A big thank you goes out to The Brewer Nation for running the contest that netted me a ticket to today’s game.

Here I am accepting the ticket outside the home plate gates:

Get to see Hank in person for the 1st time:

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I know there are a lot of people who are groaning at this, but I really don’t care. It’s a feel good story and I’m a dog person. ‘Nuff said.

Eat my 1st brat of the season:

Fact: Brats are best eaten with kraut and brown mustard. Stadium sauce is an acceptable alternative. Never ketchup. EVER!!!

Watch Gallardo move up to 2nd place on the Brewers all-time strikeout list:

Yo entered the game today in 3rd place with 1,080 Ks (just 1 K short of Teddy Higuera). It took until the 2nd inning to tie and the 3rd inning to move into sole possession of 2nd place. Congrats Yo!

Experience the standing ovation that the Brewer faithful welcomed Ryan Braun back with:

I seriously got goosebumps when Braun came to the plate in the 1st inning. The fans welcomed him back with a standing ovation which was the classy thing to do. I’m proud of you Milwaukee.

Watch the Brewers pick up the W:

1 down, 161 to go.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

Why it’s better to be a Marlin

By Nathan Petrashek

Braun's successful appeal may have eliminated the 50-game suspension he faced, but it might not protect him from other long-term implications.

With the Brewers having had their own recent brush with banned drugs, this should be of some interest:  today, MLB and MLBPA announced enhanced testing and punishment for PEDs.  Players will be tested more frequently, and the 50/100/lifetime ban (which MLB really didn’t follow anyway) has been replaced by suspensions of 80/162/life for first, second, and third offenses, respectively.

That’s all fine, but here’s one big hangup in the new punishment protocols:

“A Player who is suspended for a violation involving a performance-enhancing substance will be ineligible to participate in the Postseason, and will not be eligible for an automatic share of the Player’s Pool provided to players on Clubs who participate in the Postseason.”

Others have argued it’s unfair to punish the team for the acts of an individual player by making him ineligible for the playoffs.  That argument doesn’t really work, though; isn’t the team “punished” when they lose a player for 80 regular season games, too?  The far more damning critique of this new postseason ban is it treats players differently depending on their team context.  In other words, a player on a playoff team will be penalized more harshly than a player on a non-playoff team.  And that’s bogus.

Let’s posit a hypothetical.  Player A plays for the Marlins, and he’s using synthetic testosterone and gets caught.  He denies using and appeals, accusing MLB of a witch hunt and the urine collector of tampering.  Player A loses his appeal and is suspended for 80 games.  The Marlins don’t make the playoffs, so Player A is effectively lost only for those 80 games.  Player B is a Tiger.  He also uses synthetic testosterone and gets caught, but apologizes and accepts his 80-game penalty without appeal.  The Tigers make a deep postseason run all the way to the World Series, for which Player B is ineligible.  His punishment is effectively 90 games for the same offense as Player A: 80 games plus, say, another 10 in the postseason.

I’m not sure how punishing two guys differently for the same offense based on team context is appropriate or fair.  And that’s doubly the case where the lesser-punished player drags the process through the mud or engages in other despicable conduct.  These drastically disparate sanctions for the same prohibited conduct are a blow to the consistency MLB should strive for in its application of the drug policy.

The new policy isn’t all bad for players, though.  The “zero tolerance” policy has been loosened a bit; arbitrators can now hand down lesser penalties if a player proves at the hearing the use wasn’t intended to enhance performance.  It’s not entirely clear how that would apply to a claim like Ryan Braun’s, though, in which he said he used to aid his recovery from injury.

Maybe the MLBPA had to give the postseason ban to push MLB off its “no tolerance” stance; I won’t pretend to know what the negotiations looked like.  Still, it’s a bad look for both organizations when you have a system in which players are treated differently depending on which uniform they wear.

2014 Position Preview: Ryan Braun, Right Field

by Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series. Other positions: catcher, center field, and left field.

From the first official game of Spring Training, one thing has been apparent: where Ryan Braun goes, the boo-birds follow. For those of us that have followed the ups and downs of the “Braun Saga” we know why. An MVP season, accusations of cheating, “redemption” when those accusations didn’t stick, an MLB “witch hunt”, and a crushing finale in which we found out that all of our darkest suspicions where true. These have been the highlights and lowlights of Braun’s recent career.

With that said, the 2014 season is a new start for Braun. His suspension now completed, he finds himself in new territory: right field. Filling the gap left by the recently departed Corey Hart, Braun now tends the field out where “the dandelions grow“. Sometimes a change of scenery such as this requires a period of adjustment, but this time, that just doesn’t appear to be the case.

In 12 Spring Training appearances, Braun has 0 errors as a right fielder. As if this wasn’t reassuring enough, the bat appears to be back in a big way too. Sporting a robust .440/.548/.800 in Cactus League play, Braun also has a pair of longballs to his credit. The first of these, recorded in his first at bat of his first Spring Training game, had a cinematic quality to it.

Walking to the plate to a chorus of boos, Braun tomahawked an 0-1 offering from A’s starter Tommy Malone over the left field fence stunning the jeering crowd into silence and sending out a resounding roar from the Brewers’ faithful. Fans saw this as a return to form for the beleaguered slugger while detractors just drew more suspicion from the performance.

Believe what you may, Braun appears to be putting the whole thing in the rear view mirror and moving on, and that’s good news for Milwaukee as they look to take a run at another year of stout competition in the NL Central. Sporting a franchise high payroll (the first ever to exceed $100 million), the Brewers appear to be “all in” this season. Nowhere may this be more apparent than in Braun’s move to right field.

The move allows Kris Davis, who filled in out in left during Braun’s suspension and collected 11 homers for Milwaukee, to continue on in an everyday role for the Brewers. That kind of power will be needed to help balance out the loss of Corey Hart’s bat and to possibly stoke the fires of an explosive offense like the one Milwaukee fielded in 2011 when they led the NL in homeruns.

Look for Braun to have a bounce back season as he looks to move on from his recent turmoils.

2013 Recap

253 PA, 30 R, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB, 10.7 BB%, 22.1 K%, .298/.372/.498, 135 wRC+

2014 Projections

Steamer: 576 PA, 79 R, 26 HR, 82 RBI, 16 SB, 9.5 BB%, 19.1 K%, .291/.363/.514, 139 wRC+

ZiPs: 664 PA, 99 R, 33 HR, 116 RBI, 22 SB, 8.9 BB%, 17.6 K%, .300/.367/.540, 148 wRC+

Contract Status

Signed thru 2020, 8 yrs/$45M (08-15), 5 yrs/$105M (16-20) & 21 mutual option

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

Chronicling the Brewers On Deck Experience

By Nathan Petrashek

A while back, Disciples of Uecker writer Steve Garczynski and I had a healthy debate about attending the Brewers annual fanfest, On Deck.  His position was that the event is (or should be) primarily for kids, where they can meet players and the like, and Steve lamented the fact that many adults have seemingly co-opted the event as a blatant autograph grab.

Steve and I are largely on the same page there (although, as you’ll see, I do get autographs), and that’s not a unique criticism I hear.  So I thought it might be interesting to run a sort of journal of my experiences this year (which I didn’t find to be really uncommon from past years I’ve attended), and perhaps that will help others decide if this is an event for them in the future.  This will also preserve some of Mark Attanasio’s and Doug Melvin’s comments about the organization, which I’ve shared on Twitter, in a more permanent form.

Departure – 9:00 AM

We leave for On Deck, which starts officially at 10.  In the past, we’ve left much earlier, but the Brewers have done a good job of staggering events throughout the day instead of trying to pack everything in the morning.  So we didn’t really feel any time pressure.

Arrival – 10:00 AM

Rollie Fingers in deep thought before his autograph session

Rollie Fingers in deep thought before his autograph session

If you’ve been at On Deck before, you know all the standing around is thirst-inducing.  This year, the new policy is not to allow any outside beverages, which snags a couple of my friend’s Coke Zeros and what was apparently a really expensive bottle of green tea that he doesn’t want to give up.  I persuade him to hand over the beverages and we’re on our way upstairs.

Everyone entering is given a coupon to enter the lottery for a “premiere” signatory.  This year, there are six: Ryan Braun, Bob Uecker, Yovani Gallardo, Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, and Jonathan Lucroy.  My friend enters the lottery for Lucroy and doesn’t win, while my girlfriend wins a Braun autograph.  More on that later.

Yovani Gallardo – 10:30 AM

I entered the lottery for Gallardo, which basically turned out to be “show up and you get one.”  Not enough people even requested an autograph, which is pretty unusual … maybe a combination of the drunk driving offense and a down year.  I had him sign one of his bobbleheads from 2012.  Gallardo didn’t seem really interested in being there, which I’ve found is pretty consistent with his general demeanor.

The event is sparsely attended right now, which is a bit of a surprise.  I pretty much expected the free admission this year to draw out masses of humanity, but it’s very pleasant and there’s plenty of room to move around.  Lines are not packed and there’s space aplenty for sitting.  Incidentally, the team looks to have dramatically expanded seating areas this year.

Merch booths – 11:00 AM

I almost pulled the trigger on this Bud Selig baseball just for the accompanying picture

I almost pulled the trigger on this Bud Selig baseball just for the accompanying picture

One of my favorite activities at On Deck is browsing the merchandise booths, with vendors bringing in all kinds of memorabilia and autographs.  Lately, I haven’t bought much, but a few years ago I found Willie Mays and Willie McCovey signed balls for an absolute steal.  Anyway, these stands will basically have anything you can imagine, from a game-used Stan Musial jersey to Milwaukee Braves scorecards from the ’50s.  The cool, old school stuff usually carries a pretty hefty price tag; for example, this year I saw a 1959 Milwaukee Braves pennant for $225, and a bat signed by the entire ’57 Braves team for $700.  But there are some absolute steals, too; my friend Jason bought a Nolan Ryan ball for $50.  Usually there are stands selling autographed balls by current Brewers for between $10 and $20; by the time you factor in cost of a baseball ($32! at the Brewers team store … always bring your own) and time standing in line, you’re way better off picking up one of these if you don’t much value the (sometimes nonexistent) fan interaction.

Jim Gantner signs for a fan

Jim Gantner signs for a fan

Khrush, Stormin’ Gorman, and breaking news – 12:00 PM

While my girlfriend offers to grab a Khris Davis autograph, Jason and I try to snag Jim Gantner.  Gantner is scheduled at noon, but he’s late to the event and Gorman Thomas (who I also wanted) starts signing in his stead.    The guy immediately in front of me is carrying a portfolio of poster-sized photos, and he pulls out three with other signatures from the ’82 team already on them for Thomas to sign.  After Thomas signs them all, he gets back in line and racks Thomas for autographs a second time.  Unfortunately, that isn’t all that unusual; you see lots of obvious dealer-types milking autograph system.  I get one of Thomas’s old bobbleheads signed, then head over by Khris Davis.

After Davis wraps up his signing, we split up again; I head over to snag Jim Gantner, now arrived, and the others get in line early for Segura, who doesn’t start until 2:30.  There are already 30 or so people in line for Segura when they get there at 12:45.

 The Brewers annually do a large interview session at the main stage, with Bob Uecker emceeing a dialogue among Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Craig Counsell, and a handful of others.  This event begins as I wait in line for Gantner.  Soon after the front office folks take the stage, news ripples through the crowd that they’ve made the long-delayed Garza signing official.  It will be 4 years and $50-some million.  This gets folks excited.  Including, as I look in front of me about 30 people, Portfolio Man, who is now at the front of the line for Gantner.

Q & A with the front office staff – 1:00 PM

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Jerry Augustine led instructionals for kids throughout the day

After I finish up with Gantner (another bobblehead), I head over to watch the Attanasio/Melvin/Counsell session.  They’re joined by Gord Ash and two new Brewers, 1B Mark Reynolds and LHP Will Smith.  The first audience question I catch is about payroll, in response to which Attanasio quips, “I haven’t counted.”  Attanasio declines to say whether they’d be willing to push the payroll further after Garza, but does say they’ll be opportunistic, citing Garza and last year’s Lohse deal.  Earlier, Roenicke indicated he plans to factor Rickie Weeks into the plans at second base, and the next question asks what they’ll do for flexibility since most position players are one-trick ponies (i.e. Khrush, Scooter/Weeks/Ramirez/Segura).  Counsell gives a PR-ish response, but does cite Logan Schafer and Reynolds as examples of versatility (Reynolds can also play 3B, albeit poorly) and suggests that positional flexibility will be key in competition for final roster spots.

Robin Yount signs for a young fan

Robin Yount signs for a young fan

Then come a flurry of questions about the generally poor state of the farm system.  Attanasio says the Brewers don’t lobby for their players like other teams do (he prefers his front office guys be focusing on their jobs, he says).  According to Attanasio, there’s a large marketing component to prospect rankings and the Brewers don’t hype their guys.  Attanasio cites Scooter and Khrush as guys that had success but didn’t appear on most prospect lists.

Doug Melvin picks up on this theme, indicating that organizations that publish prospect rankings can become echo chambers for other lists, overlooking good players that don’t have the a hype machine or premiere pedigree.  Melvin doesn’t seem to put much stock in outside assessments of the farm system, noting that some teams with what others consider remarkable farm systems still spend hundreds of millions on their big-league clubs.  He’s basically saying that if your system is supposedly so good, you shouldn’t need to spend all that money.

Final questions revolve around the newly signed Matt Garza and the delays.  Attanasio mentions there are multiple layers of approval, including MLB and MLBPA.  Both Attanasio and Melvin dismiss the timing of the announcement as coincidence, with Melvin even remarking that if it had been planned, Garza would have been at On Deck.

The prodigal son returns – 2:45 PM

After the Q & A session ends, I chat with some folks and then head back to the Segura line to reunite with my party.  We soon learn that my girlfriend was selected for the Braun autograph sessions, so we head over to the other end of the convention center.

The crowd around Braun, after it has died down a bit

The crowd around Braun, after it has died down a bit

Remember when I mentioned attendance was pretty sparse?  Not anymore.  The center has been steadily filling throughout the day, what will turn out to be a record-setting attendance of more than 14,000 people.  The line for Braun is already forming when we arrive shortly after the announcement, and as the time gets closer it becomes an absolute circus.  The media has nearly encircled the area where Braun will eventually be signing, adding to the huge crowd that has come to see him make one of his only public appearances since the suspension.  The entire area is jam-packed, and will remain that way for 45 minutes until Braun appears.

Braun is delayed even more as he signs autographs and stops to talk to fans on his way to the stage.  As he appears, there is a huge chorus of cheers and it’s pretty apparent he’s going to have a friendly crowd.  Nonetheless, the numbers have prompted plenty of additional security, who surround the stage and keep everyone without an autograph ticket at least seven or eight feet away.

Braun was more than willing to take photos with fans

Braun was more than willing to take photos with fans

To their credit, neither the Brewers nor Braun’s folks ask fans with tickets to refrain from discussing his suspension.  If a fan does broach the subject with Braun, I don’t see him visibly react, and in general he’s what you’d expect: smiling, gracious, polite.  He’s shaking hands and getting names, talking things up with the fans he meets.  Whereas most players simply sign the autograph, Braun seems to take a minute or so with every fan, prompting an event staff member behind me to say his session will go twice as long as it’s supposed to.  “It’s okay,” another responds.  “He needs this.”

As the session wears on, the media lose interest and begin to wander off.  We finish up at about 4:15, when Braun was supposed to end his session, with a huge line still behind us, and make a break for the exit.