After proving to be nearly infallible through the Milwaukee Brewers’ first four postseason games, the team’s bullpen was brought back to earth in painful fashion by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday afternoon.
Corbin Burnes and Jeremy Jeffress combined to allow four runs over the seventh and eighth innings, rendering moot a tremendous start by Wade Miley.
The bats couldn’t pick up the slack, and Milwaukee was left to ponder what could have been after a 4-3 defeat in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park.
“It can’t get any closer after two games; right?” said manager Craig Counsell. “It’s been two hard-fought games, two 1-run games, tying run on base in scoring position to finish each game. So they’ve been about as close as they can be.
“We’re looking forward to the next chapter.”
The performance left the Brewers just shy of tying their franchise record of 13 consecutive victories while sending them to Los Angeles for Games 3-5 in a much different position than if they had been able to hang on and take a 2-0 series lead.
Solo homers by Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw provided half of Milwaukee’s output on an otherwise quiet offensive day for the Brewers, who didn’t manage a hit after Shaw’s round-tripper in the sixth and had just seven total.
“We feel fine,” Shaw said. “We played well. We let today get away from us. We were up, 3-0, there late in the game. But it’s going to happen. It’s a good team, good lineup.
“I don’t think anyone’s too worried. We’ll regroup, fly out there tomorrow and be ready.”
After Miley spun a 5 2/3-inning gem to set the stage for a 3-0 Brewers lead, the Dodgers clawed their way back into the game in the seventh.
Burnes issued a walk and then allowed a single to Manny Machado before he was pulled in favor of Jeffress. He was greeted by singles from Cody Bellinger and pinch-hitter Joc Pederson after shaky outing in Game 1 a night earlier.
Bellinger’s made it a 3-1 game and Pederson’s loaded the bases.
Jeffress struck out Yasiel Puig after a seven-pitch at-bat but followed that by walking Austin Barnes, a .205 hitter in the regular season, to force in another run. Power threat Yasmani Grandal pinch-hit, but he grounded into a 4-6-3 double play and Jeffress was out of danger.
But only for the time being.
After the Brewers failed to tack onto their lead, the Dodgers went right back to work against Jeffress in the eighth.
Chris Taylor led off with a bleeder down the third-base line for an infield single, then in a 2-0 count Justin Turner drilled a two-run homer to left to give the Dodgers their first lead at 4-3.
“If I’m going to give up a hit, it’s going to be a hit like that,” Jeffress said of the homer. “They hit a home run, something that’s left up, you can’t take nothing away from those guys over there. They’re professionals like everybody else.
“Just make a pitch. That’s all I’ve got to do.”
Corey Knebel took over and kept Los Angeles from lengthening its lead. Jeffress (1-0), meanwhile, was left to ponder his fourth shaky performance in five postseason outings.
The Dodgers flipped the script on the Brewers by using five relievers over the final three innings to slam the door and forge the series tie.
Hernán Pérez got to second with two outs as the tying run in the ninth, but Kenley Jansen got a broken bat grounder from Christian Yelich to end it.
The loss was just the Brewers’ third in 87 games when holding a lead after seven innings.
“They definitely earned it,” said Shaw. “I don’t think you can fault our bullpen. They’re not going to be perfect every single time. Their lineup definitely deserves some credit. They’ve been there, done that. They’ve played well.
“They mounted a rally last night and we shut them down. Today they got just enough to go over the top.”
The highlight of the early innings was a defensive gem turned in by Lorenzo Cain.
With a runner on and one out in the top of the first, longtime Brewers killer David Freese sent a drive to right-center that Cain measured, tracked down and hauled in with a perfectly timed leaping grab at the wall to pull back what would have been a two-run homer.
After throwing the ball in, Cain was shown on replays shaking his head as if to say, “Not today.” It was a play reminiscent of the one he turned in at Dodger Stadium on July 31, when he robbed Bellinger of what would have been a game-tying homer with a leaping grab in center.
That play preserved an eventual 1-0 Milwaukee victory. The pitcher on the mound for that one? Miley.
Wade Miley talks about his outing and coming out while still pitching well.
Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
It was a ground-ball fest from there for the left-hander, who generated seven of his 11 consecutive outs via that route following Cain’s first-inning, homer-robbing catch. The Dodgers’ lone hit through the first four innings, a single by Turner immediately preceding the Cain play, was also a ground ball.
The problem for the Brewers was that Los Angeles left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu was pitching almost as effectively.
He allowed an opposite-field single to Yelich in the first, an opposite-field, inside-out double to Miley in the third and a broken-bat single to Jesús Aguilar in the fourth, with none of the balls particularly well-struck.
Miley made it 14 straight set down after another 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, then finally got some offensive support in the bottom half of the frame.
With one out, Arcia lifted a high fly ball to straightaway center that just made it over the wall and the outstretched glove of Bellinger.
It was Arcia’s second homer in his last three games and gave the Brewers another from an unlikely source for the second straight game after Brandon Woodruff went deep to tie Game 1 at 1-1.
Miley followed with his second single, and after Cain roped a double to left Ryu was pulled in favor of Ryan Madson with Yelich due up. The Dodgers elected to put Yelich on to load the bases to get the righty-righty matchup with Ryan Braun while also setting up the double play.
Braun swung at Madson’s first offering and squibbed one just past the mound. Miley scored easily and Braun was thrown out at first by a half-step after a tremendous barehanded grab and off-balance throw from the shortstop Machado.
Aguilar ultimately struck out to end the budding rally. Miley stayed on for the sixth and saw his consecutive-batters streak end at 16 when Taylor singled to center with two outs.
Miley departed to a standing ovation from the crowd of 43,905 while just missing that elusive six-inning mark – one a Milwaukee starter hasn’t reached since Sept. 19, when Gio Gonzalez made it exactly six.
Burnes came on and got Turner to fly out, closing the book on Miley.
Miley allowed two singles and struck out three over 74 pitches and became the first Brewers pitcher to post multiple scoreless starts in the postseason after he tossed 4 2/3 shutout innings in a Game 3 victory in the NL Division Series against Colorado at Coors Field.
He also ran his scoreless streak against the Dodgers this season to 18 2/3 innings.
Miley’s start was the second-longest scoreless start by a Brewer in the postseason, passing Jhoulys Chacin’s five innings in Game 2 of the NLDS. Mike Caldwell tossed a complete-game shutout in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series at St. Louis to set the record.
In addition, Miley is the first pitcher to allow four or fewer base-runners in consecutive scoreless starts in the postseason since Roger Clemens in 2000.
“You’re either too early or too late,” Counsell said of the decision to pull Miley while he was rolling. “At some point, you’ve got to make a decision, and I thought he was going through the heart of the lineup for the third time.
“And I thought we had a fresh Corbin Burnes, who’s been wonderful for us this year. Wade pitched great, man. He did his job, certainly, and he pitched a good 5 2/3.
“He did more than we expected for sure.”
Shaw’s homer off lefty Alex Wood upped the Brewers’ lead to 3-0 in the sixth.
NICE START: Since the League Championship Series expanded to seven games 32 years ago, the winner of Game 1 of the NLCS has gone on to win 23 of the 32 series (a .719 winning percentage). The last time a team came back to win the NLCS after losing Game 1 was in 2012, when the San Francisco Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-3, over seven games. But Milwaukee is 0-2 all-time in seven-game postseason series that were tied after two games while Los Angeles is 2-8.
SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE: The Dodgers have scored eight of their nine runs this series in the seventh inning or later. The Brewers’ pitching staff had the lowest opponent batting average in the seventh inning or later in the National League this season with a franchise-best mark of .221.
IN THE BOOKS: The Brewers and Dodgers have set a new record for most combined pitching appearances through the first two games of an LCS, totaling 27. The former record was 23, set by the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS. The Dodgers have 14 appearances – a new record by one team – breaking the mark of 13, shared by the Brewers, the 2012 New York Yankees, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies.
FALSE ALARM ON KNEBEL: For those wondering why Counsell and an athletic trainer went to check on Knebel during the ninth inning of Game 1, they thought they saw a bit of a red flag. They thought Knebel was grabbing at his hamstring, but as it turned out he was just wiping perspiration off his hand. Knebel missed six weeks early in the season with a hamstring strain, which is why Counsell wanted to make sure everything was OK.
LOOKING BACK: Woodruff’s Game 1 homer off Clayton Kershaw generated all kinds of fun facts. It was just the second game-tying homer by a pitcher in NLCS history, joining Kerry Wood in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS against Florida. He was also just the second pitcher to homer off a former MVP in the postseason, joining Jack Bentley, who homered off of Walter Johnson in Game 5 of the 1924 World Series. And finally, it marked the first postseason pitcher homer in a lefty vs. lefty matchup.
Monday: Brewers vs. Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS, 6:39 p.m. at Dodger Stadium. Milwaukee RHP Jhoulys Chacín (15-8, 3.50) vs. Los Angeles RHP Walker Buehler (8-5, 2.62). TV: FS1. Radio: AM-620.
Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Game 4: Tuesday, 8:09 p.m. at Los Angeles
Game 5: Wednesday, 4:05 p.m. at Los Angeles
Game 6: Friday, Oct. 19, 7:39 p.m. at Milwaukee
Game 7: Saturday, Oct. 20, 8:09 p.m. at Milwaukee