LOS ANGELES -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell put the plan in motion on Monday, when, tucked in a small room on the ground floor of Dodger Stadium, he publicly tabbed Wade Miley as his Game 5 starter. Privately, Miley was warned "things may be different." But it wasn't until more than a full day later that Miley learned he was a pawn, cast by Counsell to star in the back-and-forth battle that has defined this National League Championship Series.
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By the time Miley toed the rubber Wednesday afternoon, on three days' rest, he remained one of the few who knew the truth: No matter how Miley handled Dodgers leadoff man Cody Bellinger, the left-hander's day would then be done. Brandon Woodruff would follow, jogging out from Milwaukee's bullpen in the right-field corner to commence the Brewers' fourth bullpen game of the postseason and third of the NLCS.
"That's," Counsell said, "what we were going to do all along."
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How history remembers the scheme and if it's mimicked in Octobers to come will probably hinge on how the series ends for the Brewers, starting on Friday, when their season will be on the line following Wednesday's 5-2 loss in Game 5 to the Dodgers, which put them down, 3-2, in the best-of-seven series.
But first, the certainties: Milwaukee will still return to Miller Park in what Counsell called "a position of strength," even facing elimination after letting Game 5 slip away.
Miley, arguably their top starter, is now set to start Game 6. Jhoulys Chacin, the other pitcher in that conversation, will prep for a possible Game 7. Both will be on full rest. Both will be backed by the full support of Milwaukee's vaunted bullpen, with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel all having sat out Game 5. It is as enviable a position as possible for the Brewers, given the circumstances.
"We're sitting in a very good spot and we have a great opportunity," Counsell said. "And I know you're going to play, 'What if we could have captured another of these games?' But we're still going home and have a chance with this thing, with a bunch of guys in really good shape."
How long Miley's leash will be Friday remains to be seen. With Chacin available and several other Brewers relievers able to throw multiple innings, the smart money is on Miley functioning as something in between a traditional starter and the opener he was used as Wednesday, when he walked Bellinger on five pitches before giving way to Woodruff.
The goal, Counsell admitted, was "to get matchups." In that way, it was a chess move thematic of this series, which has pitted Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Counsell against each other in a near-constant battle for platoon advantages.
"It's not my job to question it," Miley said. "We're trying to get to the World Series. This is the strategic side of it. I was in. Everybody bought in."
Woodruff struck out eight over 5 1/3 largely effective innings after Miley's exit, but Woodruff took the loss after allowing a go-ahead single to Player Page for Max Muncy in Los Angeles' two-run sixth. Woodruff and Miley were both informed of the plan early Wednesday morning after Milwaukee used seven pitchers in its 13-inning Game 4 loss.
"Seeing the situation from last night," Woodruff said,"I could read between the lines."
The few who were in on it were sworn to secrecy. But as first pitch approached, word began to trickle out. Counsell tapped Mike Moustakas on the shoulder, with news an early mound visit would be coming. Ryan Braun was told. In the clubhouse, Miley spun his chair toward Christian Yelich, catching the outfielder off guard.
"I'm probably going to go out there and throw about four of those things," Miley said.
"What are you talking about?" Yelich said.
"I'm only throwing to the first batter," Miley said, before heading to the bullpen.
Woodruff watched in hiding as Miley warmed up, remaining in the bullpen tunnel until the two teams exchanged lineup cards.
"Then I came out," Woodruff said. "I was told not to inform anybody. I was told to keep it to myself."
It is unclear how aware the Dodgers were. Starting Miley kept the left-handed-hitting Joc Pederson and the right-handed-hitting Yasiel Puig (who had reverse splits this year) out of Roberts' starting lineup, but he moved the left-handed-hitting Bellinger to leadoff and started Max Muncy at second base. Roberts stacked his lineup with all righties against Miley in Game 2.
"You've got to prepare for the unexpected," Roberts said.
It's probably unwise to expect anything less going forward, with the Brewers' backs against the wall.
"We've got two starters lined up and we've got a bullpen that's going to get a day off," Counsell said, "and some key guys who are going to get multiple days off and be ready to go in a two-game stretch where we can use them."