Cagey Crew stifled in Game 5, faces 3-2 deficit
Woodruff replaces Miley after 1 batter, goes 5 1/3 solid innings, but bats can't solve Kershaw
LOS ANGELES -- Craig Counsell took a heel turn, but Dave Roberts and the Dodgers won the bout.
Counsell's surprise use of Wade Miley for only one batter stretched the old rules of baseball etiquette and worked beautifully into the sixth inning, but there were no tactical tricks to spark the Brewers' offense against a vintage Clayton Kershaw in a 5-2 loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
For the first time in more than a month, the Brewers have lost back-to-back games. For the first time this postseason, they trail in a series.
Los Angeles leads the best-of-seven NLCS, 3-2, meaning Milwaukee must win Games 6 and 7 at Miller Park to extend its season to the World Series.
"We're right back in familiar territory," said Christian Yelich, a nod to the playoff atmosphere that surrounded the Brewers' late-season surge to the NL Central crown. "It's a little higher stakes, because if we didn't win those games in the regular season, we had the Wild Card. These, you really have to win.
"It's win or go home now. We have no other choice."
Yelich's troubles -- he's 3-for-20 in the NLCS after going 0-for-4 in Game 5, help tell the story of how Milwaukee got to this place. But he is not alone. Mike Moustakas is 2-for-21 in the series. Jesus Aguilar is 4-for-18.
Lorenzo Cain tallied two hits in Game 5 to improve to 6-for-24 in the series, including an RBI double off Kershaw, but the Brewers were otherwise stymied by the Dodgers' ace. Kershaw shed his Game 1 struggles to scatter three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in seven mostly low-stress innings. He combined with three relievers to retire 18 consecutive hitters in a stretch from the third inning until two outs in the ninth, when Aguilar doubled with two outs and Curtis Granderson hit an RBI double to briefly keep the game alive.
"Everybody in the organization would have been thrilled at the beginning of the year if you would have said, 'You have to win two games at home to go to the World Series,'" said Ryan Braun. "We'll have the two guys who have been our best starting pitchers all year [MIley and Jhoulys Chacin] ready to go for us, a fully-rested bullpen, and I think the day off could be really beneficial for us offensively.
"Sometimes the best thing you can do is get away from the game when things aren't going well as an offense. You can only take so many swings, you can only watch so much video, you can only put forth so much effort on your swing before you start to drive yourself crazy."
After the same offensive outage squandered 11 2/3 innings of terrific relief in a 13-inning marathon loss the night before in which Counsell all but emptied his bullpen -- including using multi-inning lefty weapon Josh Hader for a second straight day -- the question going into the game was how many innings Milwaukee could squeeze out of Miley on short rest. The answer was delivered not in innings, but in batters -- one, Cody Bellinger, who took a leadoff walk before Counsell emerged from the dugout to summon right-handed "reliever" Brandon Woodruff to face an L.A. lineup that had been built to face a lefty.
• Game 5 of the NLCS had a very, very weird first inning
"Look, they're trying to get matchups, we're trying to get matchups," said Counsell. "They're a very tough team to get matchups against. And we were able to give Woody some matchups."
• Miley removed after 1 batter, will start Game 6
"It's not my job to question it. We're trying to get to the World Series," said Miley, who will become the first pitcher since 1930 to start consecutive postseason games, even if this one comes with an asterisk. "This is the strategic side of it. I was in. Everybody bought in."
With the afternoon shadows combining with electric stuff from Woodruff and Kershaw to vex hitters from both teams, Counsell's plan was a success into the sixth. Cain, emerging from a run of 12 consecutive hitless at-bats, singled and doubled in his first two at-bats against Kershaw, the second of those hits giving the Brewers a 1-0 lead in the third inning after Orlando Arcia singled and Woodruff walked.
But the Dodgers tied the game with a fifth-inning rally aided by Arcia's throwing error, then pushed ahead in the sixth when Counsell and the Brewers broke from the strategy they'd employed for most of the season -- and especially over the past month as they surged to the NL Central title and swept the Rockies in the NL Division Series -- and stuck with Woodruff through a third turn through the batting order.
"His stuff showed nothing of any kind of regression," said catcher Erik Kratz.
• Woodruff K's 8 but falters 3rd time through order
The third time was the charm for Los Angeles, which took a 3-1 lead by inning's end on RBI singles from Player Page for Max Muncy off Woodruff and Yasiel Puig off Corbin Burnes. That lead grew to 5-1 in a two-run seventh that began with Joakim Soria issuing a one-out walk to Kershaw.
Before the Dodgers took Games 4 and 5, the Brewers had not lost consecutive games since falling to the Pirates on back-to-back days at Miller Park on Sept. 15-16.
For the first time in this postseason, the historical odds are against Milwaukee. In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams leading 3-2 with Games 6 and 7 on the road have gone on to take the series 29 of 49 times (59 percent).
"We were unable to score enough runs, really -- I think that was the bottom line of the three games here," said Counsell. "We gave ourselves a chance through 12 innings yesterday and six innings today to try to put ourselves in a good spot, and [the Dodgers] have done a good job of holding us down offensively."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
First (and last) best chance: The Brewers knocked Kershaw out of Game 1 after three innings for the shortest start of his checkered postseason career. Their chance for a repeat performance came in the third inning of Game 5, after Cain provided a lead and Braun worked a two-out walk to load the bases for cleanup man Aguilar, one of Milwaukee's slumping hitters. Aguilar battled, fouling off five Kershaw pitches, including four with two strikes, but went down swinging to fall to 0-for-7 with four strikeouts with runners in scoring position this postseason.
"Then he locked it in in the middle innings," said Braun. "With the shadows, we knew it would be really challenging for both sides offensively, but with anybody as good as he is -- and there are very few pitchers on the planet who are -- you know you have to get to them when you have those rare opportunities. We weren't able to do that in the third inning today."
Said Yelich: "When you get a guy like that in that situation, you really have to capitalize. You kind of feel like you left a little bit out there. As an offense, we have to find a way to score some runs."
Double whammy: If there was a turning point at-bat on Wednesday, it was Austin Barnes against Woodruff with one out in the fifth inning and Chris Taylor at third base. He'd reached on a leadoff infield single to Arcia, who tried to make his patented spin and throw to first base but was off-target, putting Taylor briefly at second before he stole third. After Woodruff struck out Enrique Hernandez, Puig stepped into the on-deck circle in case the threat reached the pitcher's spot with two outs, but the Brewers opted to attack the light-hitting Barnes, who grounded a slider on the low outside corner into center field for a 1-1 tie. A split-second later, Kershaw emerged from the dugout with a bat in hand.
"I thought that was probably the at-bat of the game," said Counsell. "He made some great pitches to Hernandez and gets a strikeout, and it feels like there is a path to get through the inning there. Barnes was rewarded for contact there. We brought the infield in and tried to be aggressive there."
The last pitcher to start consecutive postseason games? George Earnshaw of the Philadelphia Athletics in Games 5 and 6 of the 1930 World Series. Earnshaw pitched 16 innings of one-run ball in those games, so Miley will have some work to do in Game 6.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Milwaukee's ninth-inning run cost Granderson part of one of his front teeth. It chipped when he dove into second base and his helmet came off and hit him in the face. The part of the tooth was somewhere in the dirt around the bag, though a team of Granderson and Los Angeles infielders Justin Turner, Manny Machado and James Dozier were unable to find it. Granderson also suffered a laceration on his chin, which the medical staff closed up.
"It's kind of like when you're a kid and you super glue your fingers together," Granderson said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to eat tonight, which is my main concern."
HE SAID IT
"Why can't you? Is it against the rules? Is it bush league? We've got a lot of bush league. If it's bush league, you can call it bush league. I don't think it is. They're all on our team. This isn't like the movie 'White Men Can't Jump,' where they're picking out ringers and stuff. Brandon Woodruff is a really good pitcher, and I'm pretty sure he's a starter, so he gets to get some outs." -- Kratz, on the move from Miley to Woodruff
"The way that pitching has traditionally been used doesn't necessarily have to fit for everybody. You're not going to put your pitching staff in a box and say, 'This is how it's been done, therefore, this is how it should always be done.' Look, with where we're at, it's worked." -- Braun