MILWAUKEE – After six occasionally pulsating, sometimes stultifying, yet always intriguing battles, this National League Championship Series like none we’ve ever seen will get what it deserves.
A seventh game.
The Milwaukee Brewers ensured that Friday night, delaying the Los Angeles Dodgers’ coronation by a game – or forever – by blitzing them with a four-run first inning and leaning heavily on their indispensable bullpen.
The 7-2 victory before 43,619 energized fans at Miller Park gives this off-Broadway NLCS consecutive prime-time slots, the latter coming Saturday night, winner take all – the NL title and a delirious flight to Boston for the World Series.
It will be gas vs. guile in Game 7 – electric 21-year-old rookie Walker Buehler for the Dodgers, 30-year-old journeyman Jhoulys Chacin for the Brewers in a Game 3 rematch.
Chacin won that game 4-0, his many versions of a slider leaving the Dodgers off balance as he racked up 16 outs and gave up just three hits.
The Brewers lost the next two games at Dodger Stadium, pushing Craig Counsell into his first elimination game as Brewers manager.
It couldn’t have gone much better. The Brewers got excellent pitching all night – and will have relief ace Josh Hader rested and ready to roll for a multi-inning stint in Game 7.
Jesus Aguilar and Mike Moustakas drilled consecutive RBI doubles in the first inning off Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, giving Wade Miley – starting for the second consecutive game thanks to the Brewers’ pitching oddities – a significant cushion after he gave up a leadoff homer to David Freese starting the game.
Four relievers combined to shut out the Dodgers over the final 4 ⅔ innings, leaving Milwaukee in excellent shape for Game 7.
Even top reliever/”opener” Brandon Woodruff could be available on two days’ rest after throwing 70 pitches in Game 5.
State of the Dodgers
They’ve been better. But in Buehler, the Dodgers are sending out the most dominant starting pitcher in this series. He produced a half-dozen starts of at least seven innings and six strikeouts this season and struck out eight Brewers in seven innings of Game 3. A wild pitch that Yasmani Grandal could not block extended a Brewer lead to 2-0 in the sixth inning, and then he yielded a two-run homer to Orlando Arcia in the seventh.
The Dodgers faced a 5-1 deficit after two innings Friday night, but did not wave the white flag, hoping both to win the game and lure the Brewers’ top relievers into the game. They were successful on one of those counts, while not overly extending their own crew.
The Dodgers used all their relievers save for Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez and Ryan Madson, and none of them pitched more than an inning. Game 4 starter Rich Hill even pitched in by getting two outs to end the eighth inning.
In Game 7, they’ll throw all their left-handed power at Chacin early, and hope to build a lead that marginalizes Hader’s impact.
State of the Brewers
Speaking of Hader, Milwaukee is thrilled he never left the bullpen. That’s because right-handers Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress – who have been up and down this NLCS – combined for 2 ⅔ innings of hitless relief in crucial mid-game spots.
Knebel got the biggest out of the night, striking out Manny Machado with two men on base and the Brewers nursing a 5-2 lead in the fifth. It sent a jolt through the overflow crowd, which booed Machado incessantly in his first game at Miller Park since kicking first baseman Aguilar in the 10th inning of Game 4.
After right-hander Corbin Burnes got the first two outs of the eighth with the Brewers leading 5-2, Hader was ready for lefty slugger Cody Bellinger.
But Counsell let Burnes face Bellinger and he got Bellinger on a fly ball to center. Burnes stayed on for the ninth – and the Brewers are sitting pretty for Game 7.
What you missed on TV
Moments after Machado’s key strikeout in the fifth inning, a local meteorologist issued a weather report on the big screen indicating a chance of snow showers on Saturday. Yes, the weekend’s getting progressively worse for the Dodgers.