It wasn’t remotely how they drew it up a week earlier, but the Brewers got to the seventh-inning stretch in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series within a run of a Dodgers team that was dominant during the regular season. In an “anything can happen” best-of-three postseason series, this was the territory to make it happen.
But for all the good some of the Brewers’ unsung bullpen arms did to undo the damage caused by Brent Suter’s uncharacteristically wild start on Wednesday, the Dodgers did what is expected of a No. 1 with baseball’s best record against a No. 8 seed that finished below .500. They dealt the Brewers a 4-2 loss at Dodger Stadium and pushed Milwaukee to the brink of an early exit.
Orlando Arcia hit a two-run home run, giving him four in his postseason career to tie Prince Fielder’s franchise record, and well-traveled Brewers rookie relievers Eric Yardley and Justin Topa delivered 4 1/3 innings of inspired work after Suter couldn’t find the strike zone and fell into a 3-0 hole before the end of the second. The Brewers never got all the way back and suffered their third consecutive postseason loss, dating to Game 7 of the 2018 NL Championship Series against the Dodgers.
“After the Arcia homer, we’re one swing away the whole game,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “With the way the game started -- there are no consolations here -- but you want to give yourself a shot.”
The game began in disastrous fashion for Suter, who became the first pitcher in history to walk in multiple runs in the first inning of a postseason game and issued five walks in all, matching another all-time mark for a postseason appearance shorter than two innings.
Suter was the Brewers’ choice for a spot start in place of injured ace Corbin Burnes after delivering a trio of scoreless starts in September by working fast and filling up the strike zone. Suter did the former but not the latter against the Dodgers, walking as many batters (five) as he recorded outs, and matching -- in 1 2/3 innings -- his walk count from 31 2/3 innings in the regular season.
He tried breathing. He tried disengaging from the mound to change his pace. Nothing worked. Mookie Betts’ leadoff double put Suter out of whack from the start, and he walked four batters in the first inning, including Will Smith and AJ Pollock with the bases loaded. Given another chance in the second inning, Suter surrendered successive doubles to Chris Taylor and Betts to make it 3-0.
“It was uncharacteristic, so you send him out there for the second and maybe he gets three outs and he gets it going and maybe he gives us three innings and we’re still in good shape,” Counsell said. “That was the thought. He just didn’t have it tonight. It just didn’t work.”
Said Suter: “It’s a very lonely feeling. It almost felt like, in effect, the whole world was zooming in. … I threw two innings, but it felt like I threw eight. I couldn’t believe how slow time was going by. It was not good. It was not fun. But the team picking me up and keeping us in that game was incredible.”
Help came from a Brewers bullpen that will be key to staying alive, given injuries to Burnes (oblique) and Brett Anderson, who would have started a potential Game 3 before he developed a blister on his throwing hand.
Yardley, 30, who had only a taste of the big leagues last year in San Diego before delivering a 1.54 ERA in a team-high 24 appearances for the Brewers during the regular season this year, retired all seven batters he faced. Topa, 29, a former Independent League pitcher with a power fastball and wipeout slider who caught the Brewers’ eye on Twitter, added two scoreless innings and was so nasty that he broke catcher Jacob Nottingham’s glove for the second straight outing.
Along the way, Arcia homered in the fourth inning against Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, who left after that inning because of the blister issue that followed him into the postseason. Suddenly, the Brewers were back within a run.
“Whatever happens in the game, we have to stay focused and battle, no matter what,” Arcia said. “We have to make sure we have our pitcher’s back. That’s our mentality. We had to keep going.”
But the big hit eluded the Brewers again. In the sixth, Avisaíl García reached second base with one out, but he was stranded when Arcia and Eric Sogard came up empty. In the seventh, Christian Yelich doubled, but he was left there by Tyrone Taylor, a mid-game replacement for a reinjured Ryan Braun. In the ninth, Yelich batted as the tying run against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, against whom Yelich entered the series 5-for-7 with a double, a triple and a home run. Yelich struck out to end the game.
Now the Brewers’ hopes ride on their Opening Day starter, Brandon Woodruff. He is scheduled to start Game 2 opposite Clayton Kershaw, aiming to force a Game 3.
“He’s the guy we want out there,” Counsell said. “I think there’s a path for us here, even with the short start today, to be strong in pitching for the next two games, But it’s obviously going to take a great start from Brandon. That’s what he’s capable of doing. If he does that, if he does his thing, we’re going to be in good shape.”