After popping champagne in not one, not two but three visiting clubhouses in the previous weeks, the Milwaukee Brewers were seeking the chance to douse their own at Miller Park on Saturday night.
It wasn’t to be.
Thirty-six years to the day they lost Game 7 of the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brewers came up short against the Los Angeles Dodgers in their bid to clinch their second berth in the Fall Classic.
Done in by home runs by Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig and once again by their inability to generate any offense of their own, the Brewers fell, 5-1, in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
Christian Yelich’s solo homer in the first accounted for Milwaukee’s lone run. Bellinger – named NLCS MVP – got Los Angeles back in front with his blow in the second and then Puig put the game out of reach in the sixth with his three-run shot off Jeremy Jeffress.
“The bottom line is they pitched well and they didn’t let us get anything going,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
“I talked before the game about multiple baserunners. We did get some leadoff guys on. But I don’t know if there was an inning where we had multiple baserunners on. I guess the second we had two guys on (with two outs).
“We weren’t able to put together rallies, multiple hits, and get things going. And credit to them for how they pitched tonight.”
Christian Yelich talks about balancing disappointment of Game 7 loss with how well Brewers played to get there.
Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Despite the bitter end, it was a tremendous accomplishment to get to this point for a franchise that just two seasons ago was only a year into an organization-wide rebuild.
The Brewers entered the season with a bulked-up roster and high hopes after shifting gears in the offseason and moving into competitive mode.
They led the Central Division by 4½ games on May 30 only to drop eight of nine bridging the all-star break. They trailed the Chicago Cubs by 5½ games on Aug. 28 only to rally back and win seven straight and nine of 10 to close out the regular season and force Game 163.
The Brewers won that, and their second Central Division crown in the process. Then they posted their first postseason sweep by beating the Colorado Rockies in three games in the National League Division Series to get back to the NLCS for the first time since 2011.
The talent was top-shelf, the all-for-one attitude palpable and the coaching sublime. And it all came together to get the Brewers into Game 7, the first in franchise history to be played at home.
“I mean, we won 96 games (in the regular season). We won our division. We finished one game from the World Series,” Counsell said. “This team, what I just told them is that they took us on an amazing journey. They really did.
“They took us on an incredible journey that we should all be grateful for being able to see because it was a magical run. Especially in the month of September and into October. From Pittsburgh on (in late September) it was absolutely incredible how the team played and answered every tough situation they were in.”
The first inning couldn’t have gone any better, as starter Jhoulys Chacín faced the minimum thanks to a first-pitch groundout by Joc Pederson and a double-play grounder by Justin Turner.
Then in the bottom half, Yelich lined a 98 mph fastball from Walker Buehler just over the wall in right-center. It was the second extra-base hit in as many games for Yelich, and the first homer for him since Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
The sellout crowd of 44,097, now suitably stimulated, once again let Manny Machado, the villain of the moment, know how much it disliked him as he led off the second. He worked a full count and then shocked everyone by dropping a bunt down the third-base line for a hit.
“I quick-pitched him, so the only thing he could have done was bunt there,” Chacín said. “Perfect bunt. I was surprised.”
That brought up Bellinger, who had been well-contained in the series. He jumped on a 90 mph fastball Chacín left over the plate and sent it into the second deck for his first postseason homer, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 lead.
“I was trying to go up and in there with two strikes,” Chacín said. “But the ball just sunk down and I ran into the barrel. He put a good swing on it and hit a homer.”
Puig followed by lining a double down the first-base line, and not long thereafter Josh Hader began warming up.
Chacín (1-1) stranded Puig at second but saw his night end after that when he was pulled for pinch-hitter Jonathan Schoop with two outs in the bottom of the second after Mike Moustakas and Orlando Arcia singled.
Schoop grounded out, and Chacín departed having allowed three hits, the two runs and a walk in his 36-pitch outing. It was the fourth start of two innings or less for the Brewers in a series defined by their bullpenning.
“You’re looking at the game as a nine-inning season, and we were losing the game at that point, and so we had to go to our best guy,” Counsell said. “We had to try to keep the game there as long as we could. We did. We weren’t able to score, unfortunately.”
Hader, pitching on three days’ rest, faced the minimum over his first two innings. But the Brewers failed to make any headway against the rookie Buehler.
Lorenzo Cain led off the third with a single only to be erased by a Yelich double-play grounder. Things looked more promising in the fourth when Travis Shaw started by doubling over Puig’s head in right, but Buehler sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a Moustakas flyout to escape.
Hader pitched a third scoreless inning in the fifth and the Brewers finally got Buehler out of the game in the bottom half after a two-out double by Cain.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went with lefty Julío Urías for the matchup against Yelich, and it appeared as though Yelich foiled it when he lined a shot to the gap in left-center.
But leftfielder Chris Taylor got a great jump on the ball and, as he reached the warning track, hauled it in on the run with an outstretched arm and slid to a stop just in front of the fence to keep Cain from scoring and tying the game.
“That was a great catch,” said Counsell. “First glance at it I didn’t think he was going to catch it. He covered a ton of ground. That was what was just so impressive, is the ground he covered.
“I felt like the ball was really hit hard. There was a gap where the ball is going and where he is, and he made a wonderful catch. It was a huge play, obviously; (otherwise) the game is tied.”
The air was let out of the ballpark not long after that.
Xavier Cedeño gave up a single to Max Muncy in a one-batter outing and then gave way to Jeremy Jeffress.
Fresh off his first 1-2-3 inning of the postseason the night before, Jeffress was greeted by Turner with a single. Machado flied out to right and then Jeffress got the ground ball he needed off the bat of Bellinger.
But Bellinger hustled out of the box and beat Arcia’s relay throw to first, leaving two on with two outs for Puig. Three pitches into his at-bat, he lined a breaking ball on a rope out to center for a three-run homer.
Puig, animated as always, chopped at his crotch as he rounded the bases while the crowd sat in stunned silence.
Jeffress closed out the inning with no further damage and then retired the Dodgers in order in the seventh. His overall postseason performance – 16 hits, six earned runs and four walks allowed and a 6.75 earned run average in eight appearances – undoubtedly will stick with him for a while.
“That’s baseball,” said Jeffress. “For me, that at-bat, the whole series, I’ve been throwing good pitches. I’ve just been getting hit.”
Ryan Madson tossed 1⅔ scoreless innings behind Urías, and he was followed by closer Kenley Jansen and his 1⅓ scoreless innings. The Brewers managed only a single by Arcia against that duo.
While Milwaukee’s relievers were a season-long story, it was the Los Angeles bullpen that controlled the series. It was interesting, then, to see ace Clayton Kershaw take the mound to pitch the final inning on three days’ rest.
Fresh off a strong seven-inning start in the Dodgers’ Game 5 victory at Dodger Stadium, the left-hander easily worked his way through the heart of the Brewers’ order.
Shaw grounded out, Jesús Aguilar struck out Moustakas ended it with a strikeout of his own as players and staff poured out of the Los Angeles dugout to celebrate the team’s second straight World Series appearance.
Moustakas, meanwhile, quickly made his way back to the Brewers’ dugout.
Now a free agent, Moustakas is among the key performers who may or may not be back in 2019. But it’s clear the nucleus of a team built to compete for the long haul is already in place.
“We’re built for the long term,” Cain said. “We expect to come out next year and compete just like we did this year. As long as I’m here, I expect to compete.”
IN THE BOOKS: Including the postseason, the Brewers finished with 102 victories, which marked a franchise record for a single year. The previous record of 101 wins was accomplished in 1982 and 2011. The Brewers also tied the franchise record with 96 regular-season victories that was first established in 2011.
ON A ROLL: With his second-inning single, Arcia became just the 12th player in history to collect a hit in all seven games of an LCS. The last was San Francisco’s Marco Scutaro in 2012.
A NEW RECORD: Chacín set a new franchise record with 11 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason before Bellinger’s homer snapped his streak. The previous record was 11 scoreless by Mike Caldwell. Chacín fell short in his bid to become the first Brewers pitcher to win his first three postseason starts, and the first overall since Houston’s Dallas Kuechel won four straight from 2015-’17.
HIT PARADE: Cain finished with 10 hits in the NLCS, a new franchise record.
BUEHLER, BUEHLER, BUEHLER: Buehler became just the second rookie in major-league history to start Game 7 of an LCS. Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka was the first, tossing five innings in earning a win in the 2007 ALCS.