MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' World Series hopes turned on two line drives.
One was caught. One was not.
And because of those outcomes -- a Christian Yelich drive that found Chris Taylor's glove at the warning track in the fifth inning before a laser beam of a three-run home run for Yasiel Puig in the sixth -- a surprising season that carried a Milwaukee team two years removed from rebuilding to within one victory of the Fall Classic came to a close. The 2018 Brewers went down with a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on Saturday night.
Just like that, it was the end. The Brewers set a franchise record with 102 total wins. That included a 12-game spree that stretched into October and covered regular season Game 163 at Wrigley Field for the NL Central crown before a sweep of the Rockies in the NL Division Series, then a date with the postseason-tested Dodgers in the NLCS.
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
The winning streak ended in Game 2 of the NLCS after Milwaukee had a three-run lead with nine outs to go, a result that tilted the series in Los Angeles' favor. Now the Dodgers are off to the World Series for the 20th time, tied with the Giants for the second most all time to the Yankees' 40.
The Brewers, including perhaps their highest-profile fan, will have to try again next year.
• For Crew, Game 7 not an end but a beginning
"I'm sure not just for me personally, but for everybody here in Wisconsin, this is a big deal," said Hall of Famer Robin Yount an hour before the start of the second Game 7 in Brewers history. "We're not like some of the bigger franchises that experience this stuff a little more often.
"So when a team is this good and plays this well in the playoff atmosphere, we're all excited. I'm as excited as anybody."
• Yount: First pitch feels 'like I'm at home'
Even Yount left the ballpark disappointed.
"The obvious is that it's disappointing," said Yelich, whose eyes welled as he talked about his remarkable and exhausting second-half push to become the NL MVP Award favorite. "But so many guys have gotten better. We can learn from this. It's something to be proud of. We accomplished a lot, especially down the stretch. Once this settles down, we can assess what we accomplished and use it as motivation for next year. Hopefully, this is just the beginning."
Said Ryan Braun: "This is certainly not the position that we hoped to be in. I think we entered the day really confident. They just beat us today."
There was early reason for excitement in Game 7. Yelich drove in his first run of the NLCS with a solo homer in the first inning, but it was another fly ball off his bat on which the game would pivot. Milwaukee trailed in the fifth, 2-1, and had already burned relief ace Josh Hader for three scoreless innings in the wake of a shaky Jhoulys Chacin when Lorenzo Cain doubled off L.A. starter Walker Buehler with two outs. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts popped out of the dugout to tap into his bullpen.
If there exists a soft spot in Los Angeles' stout pitching staff, this may have been it. Buehler and his electric triple-digit-tickling fastball were out of the game, and Kenley Jansen and the Dodgers' best relievers were yet to come. Yelich drew 22-year-old lefty Julio Urias -- who was left off L.A.'s NLDS roster but was added for this round for just this kind of spot -- and he got a pitch to hit when Urias left an elevated 0-2 fastball within the bounds of the strike zone.
Yelich made solid contact and sent the baseball toward the gap in left-center. Taylor, who began the game at second base before moving to left in the third inning as Roberts once again aggressively employed his deep bench, took an adventurous route but found the right spot to make a running, sliding catch that ended the inning.
"You could feel the tension in the stands," Taylor said. "The stadium was going crazy, Julio facing the MVP and the tying run on second. It just all built up."
"That's the thing, when there's one game, anything can happen," Yelich said. "Some things go your way, some things don't. They made the plays. They made the pitches when they had to to win. It's tough when it's one game that decides it. Credit to them, they played great and they won. I feel like we didn't really beat ourselves. They went out and they won the game."
That sucked some of the energy out of the crowd. Puig finished the job.
Cody Bellinger had given the Dodgers the lead with a two-run homer off Chacin in the second inning, but it was his speed legging out a potential double-play grounder in the sixth inning that allowed Puig to deliver the dagger. With two on and two outs against Jeremy Jeffress, who was every bit as good as Hader during the regular season but couldn't conjure the same results in October, Puig smashed a curveball -- it was actually low and away -- over the left-center-field wall for a three-run homer and a 5-1 lead.
Two of those runs were hung on Jeffress, who surrendered six earned runs in eight postseason innings. That matched the earned runs he allowed in his final 39 innings of the regular season dating all the way back to June 27.
"That's baseball, man," said Jeffress. "That was a good pitch for me. The whole series, I've been throwing good pitches. They've just been getting hit."
Did Jeffress run out of gas at the end?
"I don't have the perfect answer for you," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "Tonight I thought both hits were on some breaking balls that just didn't have the good bite to them that they needed to have. This guy got outs better than anybody in the National League out of the bullpen this year. He was wonderful. And the playoffs did not go well for him."
Dodgers relievers had no such trouble, retiring 13 of the 14 Brewers batters they faced beginning with Urias' big out against Yelich. Milwaukee's only baserunner the rest of the way came on Orlando Arcia's two-out single in the seventh.
After Clayton Kershaw emerged from the bullpen and recorded the final three outs, Counsell left his club with a message to take into the offseason.
"This team, what I just told them is that they took us on an amazing journey," Counsell said. "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 [in late September] on was absolutely incredible, how the team played and answered every tough situation they were in."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A bunt and a blast: Chacin, the Brewers' best pitcher during the regular season, was not at his best in Game 7. Every Dodger besides Manny Machado resisted offering at Chacin's slider, and when he grooved a two-seam fastball to Bellinger that was supposed to be up and in, Bellinger blasted it to the right-field bleachers for a two-run homer and a lead for Los Angeles. The homer followed a surprise bunt single in a full count from Machado, who was booed loudly for the second straight night. It was the first full-count bunt hit in the Majors since Nori Aoki of the Royals on May 29, 2014.
"I think I quick-pitched him, so the only thing he could do was bunt there," said Chacin. "It was a perfect bunt. That's what I was most surprised of. Then I tried to get Bellinger to chase up, and the ball sunk down. He put a good swing on the ball.
"... I'm really proud of all of the guys here. Nobody believed we could make it here, and we just went one win away from the World Series. I'm excited for next year."
Stranding Shaw: It was still 2-1 in the fourth when Travis Shaw's leadoff double against Buehler put the Brewers in business. But the Dodgers rookie never let Shaw budge from second base, striking out Jesus Aguilar (his breakthrough season ended with an 0-for-4, four-strikeout night) and Erik Kratz around a Mike Moustakas flyout. Milwaukee's only other runner in scoring position the rest of the night was Cain in the fifth.
"The bottom line is they pitched well and they didn't let us get anything going," 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 [after the second] where we had multiple baserunners on. We weren't able to put together rallies, multiple hits, and get things going. And credit to them for how they pitched tonight."
Arcia's strong finish gave the Brewers hope for better things in 2019 for the slick-fielding shortstop. He became the 12th player to collect a hit in all seven games of an LCS. The last was the Giants' Marco Scutaro in 2012.
HE SAID IT
"Losing sucks. It hurts any time; it's not the 'stage of my career.' If we came up short in Game 163, it would have sucked. It doesn't suck any more or any less. I remember losing in the championship game in Little League just like I remember losing in Game 7 of the World Series. You learn from it and hopefully you become better, because if you don't become better, that means you became worse." -- Kratz