MILWAUKEE -- The Dodgers needed rookie Walker Buehler to win Game 163 and clinch the National League West, and now they need him to pitch them into the World Series after taking a 7-2 loss to the Brewers on Friday, forcing a decisive Game 7 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday at Miller Park.
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
"Game 7 to get to a World Series," said Buehler. "I don't know if it gets more high stakes than that."
Buehler has shown this year he's pretty special, and he'll need to be once more. The only Dodgers rookie to start a Game 7 was Joe Black, who lost to the Yankees, 4-2, in 1952. Fernando Valenzuela started the winner-take-all Game 5 of the 1981 NLCS against Montreal (the Rick Monday homer game). The last MLB rookie to start a Game 7 was Daisuke Matsuzaka, who started Game 7 of the 2007 American League Championship Series for the Red Sox vs. the Indians.
"I think Walker is prepared for this moment," manager Dave Roberts said of Buehler, who allowed four runs in seven innings in Game 3.
The Dodgers are still one win away from back-to-back World Series appearances, but like most things Dodgers this year, it's going to come the hard way. They face Jhoulys Chacin, who beat Buehler in Game 3 with 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Los Angeles is 3-4 all time in Game 7's, and the home team is 6-3 all time in NLCS Game 7's.
They were hoping Hyun-Jin Ryu would again live up to his big-game reputation, but he allowed four two-out hits in a four-run first inning, the worst first inning for a Dodgers starter in the postseason since Hiroki Kuroda allowed four runs to the Phillies in Game 3 of the 2009 NLCS.
"I tried to get ahead in the count by using my offspeed pitches, but I left them hanging and I got punished for it," said Ryu. "I had the lead and felt good, but I couldn't do my job, and I feel terrible about it."
Ryu, who had a 1.15 ERA at home during the regular season, had an 8.59 ERA in two road starts in this series. He was charged with five runs in three innings after having allowed no more than three earned runs in any of his starts this year. Ryu had allowed only three runs total in 17 first innings in 2018 until this one.
"They had a pretty good approach against him today, and they made him pay for soft stuff up in the zone," said catcher Austin Barnes.
As Ryu was unraveling, Roberts was already thinking the unthinkable -- Game 7.
"That's sort of the situation we were in. ... There's the thought of trying to go to your 'pen in the first or second inning, but there's a significant cost potentially for a potential Game 7," Roberts said. "So I just felt that we needed to get some more innings out of Hyun-Jin to keep our highest-leverage guys available for a potential Game 7."
Those "highest-leverage guys" in the bullpen -- closer Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez and Ryan Madson -- will be joined on Saturday by Game 5 starter Clayton Kershaw, who said he'll be ready for "whatever" after Rich Hill pitched in relief in Game 6.
Meanwhile, the Brewers won without using their best weapon, reliever Josh Hader. They were energized by a loud crowd and borrowed L.A.'s Game 5 strategy of spraying the ball. After chasing Ryu, they tacked on two runs against Kenta Maeda, one scoring in the seventh on a curveball that skipped past catcher Yasmani Grandal for a wild pitch, the other in the eighth charged to Maeda on Jesus Aguilar's two-out RBI single off Hill. Six of Milwaukee's seven runs scored with two outs.
The 2009 Phillies are the last team to successfully defend an NL title. The Dodgers, who are trying to snap a streak of four consecutive defending NL champs that have been unsuccessful returning to the World Series, haven't been to the Fall Classic in back-to-back seasons since 1977-78.
The home team has gone 30-25 in all winner-take-all games in best-of-seven postseason series, including 11-5 in the LCS. In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, 32 teams have forced a Game 7 at home by taking a must-win Game 6. In 20 of those 32 instances (63 percent), that home club also won Game 7 and the series.
The Dodgers clinched the NLCS over the Cubs in five games a year ago to the day, and it quickly looked like there'd be a repeat. David Freese, surprisingly atop the batting order, led off the game with a home run off Wade Miley, echoing his three-run shot against the Brewers for the Cardinals in the first inning of Game 6 of the 2011 NLCS.
• Freese adds another Game 6 HR to his resume
Miley stuck around longer than his one-batter start in Game 5, going 4 1/3 innings. Before leaving, he faced Freese a third time and Freese connected on an RBI double, rewarding Roberts for the latest in a series of unpredictable moves.
The side plot to this game was Manny Machado, treated like a villain by a loud Brewers crowd that was predictably hostile to him after he kicked first baseman Aguilar in Game 4. Machado went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, stranding three runners on base. More >
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Freese's one-out RBI double in the top of the fifth made the score 5-2, and was followed by a Player Page for Max Muncy walk that ended Miley's night. That meant the potential tying run was at the plate. Milwaukee brought in Corey Knebel to face the heart of Los Angeles' order, and he retired Justin Turner on a high fly to center, then struck out Machado.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Freese's three career regular-season starts leading off are the fewest for a player who hit a leadoff homer in the postseason. He last led off a game July 30, 2016, for the Pirates and was 1-for-11 as a leadoff hitter. Freese's homer on Friday snapped a streak of 111 at-bats for the Dodgers without a home run.
HE SAID IT
"Since August we've been playing for our lives. So here we are again. This whole year we've played do-or-die situation. Nothing came easy for us this year." -- Jansen
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Aguilar doubled to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning, and the Dodgers challenged the safe call at second base on the tag by Turner, but the call stood. Aguilar later scored on a wild pitch.