A return to Miller Park proved to be exactly what the Milwaukee Brewers’ stagnant offense needed to return to life.
Jesús Aguilar broke the seal with a two-run, first-inning double, the Brewers tacked on two more runs immediately after that. A strong effort from Wade Miley and a trio of relievers made the lead hold up the rest of the way, and Milwaukee downed the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-2, on Friday night.
Aguilar finished with a postseason-best three hits, including two doubles, and three runs batted in as the Brewers advanced to a winner-take-all Game 7 for a shot at their first World Series since 1982.
“It was just a case where we executed well,” said Craig Counsell, who will be seeking his first World Series appearance in his fourth season as manager. He won two during a 16-year playing career.
“It was just, ‘Get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.’ And really, since Game 1, I thought it was the first time we really did a heck of a job at getting our pitch to hit a lot of the night.”
Thanks to that offensive approach, Miley was staked to a three-run lead after the opening frame and ultimately turned in a solid 4 1/3-inning start. Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress and Corbin Burnes then combined for 4 2/3 innings of shutout, hitless relief behind him.
The amped-up, sellout crowd was quieted only five pitches into the game when longtime Brewer killer David Freese hammered a home run to right-center off Miley – the first surrendered by the left-hander since Aug. 18.
In a case of serendipity, it was Freese’s three-run, first-inning homer off Shaun Marcum in Game 6 of the NLCS in 2011 that knocked the wind out of the Brewers’ sails when he was a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
But on this night the blast wound up not mattering because for the first time since Game 1 at Miller Park, the Brewers’ bats finally came alive.
Lorenzo Cain greeted the Dodgers’ left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu with an infield single and Ryan Braun drew a one-out walk. After Travis Shaw struck out, the floodgates opened.
Aguilar got things started by lining a two-run double to right field. Then, on consecutive pitches, Mike Moustakas doubled and Erik Kratz singled to right to up Milwaukee’s lead to 4-1 as the gathering of 43,619 went crazy.
Orlando Arcia singled as well, giving the Brewers four consecutive hits and five in the inning off Ryu before Cody Bellinger ran down Miley’s drive to straightaway center to finally retire the side.
“I was trying to get back in the dugout and then the boys regrouped and put up a four-spot,” Miley said. “That’s huge for the starting pitcher. Then I was able to settle into the game and just try to get outs.”
The four runs were one more than the Brewers had managed in their Games 4 and 5 losses at Dodger Stadium, when they scored three in a total of 22 innings.
“The first inning Agui kind of takes what they give him,” said Counsell. “Moose got a curveball for a strike and put a good swing on it. Kratzy goes the other way, and just gets one through the hole.
“We were kind of aggressive, actually, in that first inning. A lot of opposite-field hits.”
Miley worked around a pair of second-inning singles, then saw the offense give him even more breathing room when Christian Yelich – hitting just .179 in the postseason – and Braun doubled to right-center in consecutive at-bats to make it a 5-1 game.
Yelich’s double was his first extra-base hit since his two-run homer in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies on Oct. 4.
Ryu (1-1) retired the side in order in the third and then gave way to Julio Urías, who matched that effort in the fourth.
Miley saw his night end in the bottom of the fourth, when he sandwiched a pair of four-pitch walks around a Freese RBI double to center that pulled the Dodgers within 5-2.
Knebel (1-0) entered and retired Justin Turner on a fly ball to center and struck out Machado with a 97-mph fastball to limit the damage to a run.
Miley departed having allowed five hits, two runs and two walks with four strikeouts over 87 pitches two days after his one-batter, five-pitch “start” caused a stir in Milwaukee’s Game 5 loss in Los Angeles.
“Same as I would any start,” Miley said of his preparation with only one day between appearances. “Just try to go out there, get loose, attack hitters and try to get some outs.”
The bullpenning continued from there, with the Dodgers getting more solid work from their relievers – continuing a theme in the series while Knebel successfully navigated a scoreless inning of his own in the sixth.
Jeffress got the nod for the Brewers in the seventh, and after having not pitched since his high-wire escape act in the ninth inning of Game 3, he retired the Dodgers in order. It was his first 1-2-3 inning of the postseason.
The Brewers got a gift run in the seventh when Kenta Maeda uncorked a wild pitch with two on and runners in scoring position. Aguilar doubled to right to lead off the frame, moved to third on an Arcia groundout and scored easily on Maeda’s errant throw.
Burnes, up next, matched Jeffress’ perfect frame and Aguilar’s third hit – an opposite-field single, continuing the theme for the night – drove in Cain to up the Brewers’ lead to 7-2.
That allowed Burnes to come in and finish the game off, giving Josh Hader another vital day of rest for Game 7. He again set the Dodgers down in order, with Matt Kemp fouling out to Aguilar at first cap the game.
The Brewers are now set up perfectly to try and close the Dodgers out, with No. 1 starter Jhoulys Chacín starting, Hader available for multiple innings and, really, no other option off the table as Counsell tries to navigate Milwaukee to its second-ever appearance in the Fall Classic.
“Best-case scenario for sure for us,” Counsell said. “(Hader’s) fresh. He got up tonight. We’ll see how he goes. But you’ll see him tomorrow.”
And another sellout crowd will see the small-market Brewers try to finish off the big-money Dodgers.
“Pretty cool,” Miley said. “I’m sure I’ll think more about it tonight. We’re one away. We’ve just got to take care of business.”
DOWN TO THE WIRE: The Dodgers are 3-4 all-time in best-of-seven series while the Brewers are 0-1. Also, in NLCS history, the home team is 6-3 in Game 7.
STATION TO STATION: For just the third time this year, the Brewers scored seven or more runs without the benefit of a homer. Milwaukee also won those two games — on March 29 in San Diego (seven runs) and Sept. 4 against the Chicago Cubs (11 runs).
IT’S A FIRST: With the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth, Counsell allowed Knebel to bat in order to get another inning out of him on the mound. It was the first professional plate appearance for the reliever, and it ended predictably – with a strikeout against Dodgers lefty Alex Wood.
“No intention of taking him out,” Counsell said. “You’re hoping something crazy happens,.You’re hoping he walks, really. I thought he took a decent swing. And then a not-so-decent swing.”
Knebel said he hadn’t hit in a game since 2010, when he was in high school.
“It was a lot of fun tonight being in the box,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. My hands were shaking. I was nervous.”
NOT LEFT OUT: For the fifth time in this NLCS, left-handers were matched against each other as starters. No other series in LCS history has featured more than three lefty-vs.-lefty matchups. The 10 combined starts by lefties ties the LCS record, set in the 1991 NLCS by Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
POWER OUTAGE: The Brewers (five) and Dodgers (two) entered Friday having combined to hit seven homers in the NLCS, which was the fewest since the Dodgers (four) and Cardinals (two) combined for six over six games in 2013.
SATURDAY: Brewers vs. Dodgers in Game 7 of the NLCS, 7:09 p.m. at Miller Park. Milwaukee RHP Jhoulys Chacín (2-0, 0.00) vs. Los Angeles RHP Walker Buehler (0-1, 6.75). TV: FS1. Radio: AM-620.