MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell wanted energy from the Miller Park faithful. The Miller Park faithful wanted more baseball. Everybody got their wish.
Shedding the offensive funk induced by the Dodgers' quality pitching in the first five games of the National League Championship Series, the Brewers busted loose for four runs in a nine-batter opening inning of Game 6 on Friday night, putting them well on their way to a 7-2 win over the Dodgers that bought a chance to play -- and for those fans to cheer -- another day.
:: NLCS schedule and results ::
Game 7 is Saturday night. The winner gets the Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
• Four X-factors to decide NL pennant
"I can't wait until tomorrow. It's going to be a great day for us. I believe it," said Jesus Aguilar, who snapped out of his October funk to lead the way with three hits, two runs scored and three RBIs. "We'll just try to stay nice and quiet and play our game."
And the fans? Aguilar does not anticipate quiet.
"They showed they love us," he said, "and we showed what we can do."
What they did was match their series high for hits (11) set in a Game 1 win, led by Aguilar's three and two apiece from Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun, who is hitting .316 in the postseason.
But to get to a tomorrow, the Brewers had to buck their recent postseason past -- and another dose of David Freese. This NLCS began just like the Brewers' last, in 2011 against the Cardinals; a split of Games 1 and 2 at Miller Park, followed by losses in two of the three road games to send the Brewers back to Milwaukee one loss away from elimination.
That time, Freese smashed a three-run homer in the first inning of Game 6, part of a four-run opening inning against Shaun Marcum that sealed Milwaukee's fate. This time, Freese did it against Wade Miley while making a rare start as a leadoff man, hitting the game's fifth pitch into the visitors' bullpen for a 1-0 Dodgers lead.
"There was an opportunity for us to get down," said catcher Erik Kratz. "We were losing, 1-0, that's not exactly what you're looking for with the crowd pumped up. But they stepped up, and they did not skip a beat. The crowd was electric."
The Dodgers felt it, too.
"The fans, the way they responded, whether it was the runs or the energy from the players -- it was really good energy tonight," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
So this time, unlike 2011, the damage stopped there. The Brewers answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning against Hyun-Jin Ryu, and while Freese delivered another RBI with a double in the fifth, he was double-switched out of the game after that and Milwaukee's fans with long memories could exhale.
By then, the lead was in hand.
The Brewers entered the day 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position. Counsell hoped aloud that some crowd noise would help apply pressure to Dodgers pitchers, and whether it was the crowd or misses by Ryu or better at-bats by Brewers hitters, the result was 5-for-16 with runners in scoring position, with three of those hits coming in a row during a nine-batter first-inning rally that began with Cain's leadoff infield single.
• Aguilar sparks Crew's tone-setting rally in G6
Aguilar and Mike Moustakas were a combined 6-for-39 (.154) in the NLCS, including 0-for-8 with six strikeouts with runners in scoring position, as Aguilar stepped to the plate with two on and two outs. They drilled successive doubles for a 3-1 lead. Kratz, 1-for-11 in Games 1-5, followed with a run-scoring single to make it 4-1.
"After they jumped ahead on David Freese's homer, I thought it was incredibly important for us to answer back as quickly as possible, keep the crowd into it, keep the pressure off of us," said Braun. "To score four right there was very encouraging. I think it was inspiring for us for the rest of the game and encouraging for us to move into [Game 7]."
In the second inning, Christian Yelich laced his fourth hit of the NLCS -- and his first extra-base hit -- in his 22nd at-bat with a one-out double. When Braun followed with another double, it was 5-1, and the Brewers could begin mapping a pitching strategy to 27 outs -- plus 27 more outs on Saturday.
It went like this: Miley for 13 outs, Corey Knebel for five, Jeremy Jeffress for three and rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes for six at the end of the game, when the Brewers tacked on two critical insurance runs on a wild pitch and another Aguilar RBI that kept lefty relief ace Josh Hader rested in the 'pen.
That combination, which notably didn't include Hader, set the Brewers up nicely behind their best starting pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin, in Game 7. Hader will be well-rested after not appearing in Games 5 or 6.
"Best-case scenario, for sure, for us," Counsell said.
• Unused in Game 6, Hader well-rested for finale
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Outs > Runs: It's been a fascinating series for armchair managers, and Game 6 was no exception. In the fifth inning, pinch-hitter James Dozier snapped Miley's streak of eight batters retired in a row by taking a four-pitch walk. When Freese cut the Dodgers' deficit to 5-2 and Miley walked Player Page for Max Muncy on four more pitches to bring the tying run to the plate with one out, Counsell decided it was time to tap the bullpen and called for Knebel, who has served as a sort of middle-inning "closer" for the Brewers since a restorative 10-day break in late August and early September completely turned his season around. Knebel drew the Dodgers' two most dangerous right-handed hitters, Justin Turner and Manny Machado, and retired them both. Turner flied out to center field and Machado, who was booed lustily all night, struck out on a foul tip.
• Knebel right in middle of Counsell's maneuvers
The next critical decision involved Knebel in the bottom of the inning, when Alex Wood walked Travis Shaw leading off the frame and hit Kratz with two outs ahead of eight-hole hitter Orlando Arcia. Counsell sent Domingo Santana to the on-deck circle, but Roberts sensed a bluff and was right. When Los Angeles intentionally walked Arcia to load the bases, Counsell called back Santana and sent up Knebel, who had no at-bats on his ledger in college, the Minor Leagues or the Majors, because unlike many prospects to begin their careers as starting pitchers, he's long been a reliever.
Knebel struck out, but that kept him in the game to pitch a scoreless sixth as Counsell pieced together those outs with a Game 7 in the back of his mind.
"Our motto out there is, 'Anybody, anywhere, anytime,'" Knebel said. "We're ready to go. So starters get as much as they can get done … and you come in and finish the rest. That's our job, and we did it pretty well tonight."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Aguilar wasn't running out of the batter's box on a fly ball down the right-field line leading off the seventh inning against Kenta Maeda, and he had to scramble to second base for a double. The Dodgers challenged after one replay showed Aguilar might have briefly lost contact with the bag as he slid in, but after the replay review, it was determined the call would stand.
That was a huge call, because Aguilar took third on Arcia's groundout and scored with two outs when Maeda bounced a wild pitch past Yasmani Grandal, who had just entered the game to catch, pushing the lead back to four runs. That, in turn, allowed Hader to sit, and the Brewers covered the rest of the game with Burnes.
"It was pretty awesome, just to be given the opportunity to come up and join this team," said Burnes, whose Major League debut was a two-inning save in Miami on July 10. "To be in this spot, playing [for] the World Series, it's pretty special. I can't wait to see what the atmosphere is like tomorrow."
The home team has gone 30-25 in 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.
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The balance of power has tilted more in favor of the home team since the LCS round expanded to best-of-seven in 1985. During that time, home teams winning Game 6 to force Game 7 have taken the series 14 of 17 times (82 percent). Just last year, the Astros beat the Yankees in Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS in Houston to advance to the World Series, but in the Fall Classic, the Dodgers won Game 6 in L.A. before falling to the Astros in Game 7.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Kratz, playing for his seventh big league team (Phillies, Blue Jays, Royals, Astros, Pirates, Yankees and Brewers), got a huge surprise before Game 6 when a group of college friends showed up at Miller Park decked out in some of his previous uniforms. Kratz embraced them in a pregame bear hug, then welled up after the game, saying he had no idea they would fly in from all over the country.
• Kratz fans wear jerseys of his previous teams
"You've got a guy who's been struggling, grinding it out for 17 years," said one of those friends, Joel Daly. "All of us should take a lesson from that, right?"
HE SAID IT
"That was loud. The fans, they did what they think they needed to do. They did it tonight. I think it [put] on a little pressure and that was good for us." -- Aguilar, on Milwaukee's unfriendly greeting for Machado