LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't the sort of dominant inning that Jeremy Jeffress delivered time after time during the regular season. Far from it. But when the zero appeared on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard, it was progress.Called upon again in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series in spite
LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't the sort of dominant inning that Jeremy Jeffress delivered time after time during the regular season. Far from it. But when the zero appeared on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard, it was progress.
Called upon again in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series in spite of a series of shaky postseason performances, Jeffress rewarded the Brewers' vote of confidence by closing out a 4-0 win over the Dodgers on Monday night.
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It did not come easy. Justin Turner, who was the hero of Game 2 for the Dodgers, started the inning with a ground-ball single up the middle. Los Angeles put two men in scoring position with none out, then loaded the bases with one out. But Jeffress escaped, striking out Yasmani Grandal and James Dozier to close a victory that gave Milwaukee a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"He's faced plenty of situations like that," said Corey Knebel, the former Brewers closer who navigated trouble of his own this season only to emerge better on the other side. "He's done it before, and everyone knew he could do it. He didn't feel the pressure at all, and he dominated at the end there."
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Said Josh Hader: "He's been the guy every time, all year. We knew we could count on him. He came out huge."
The significance was not lost on Jeffress.
"Very important," he said. "It was a little shaky in the beginning, but I just stuck to my game plan. I went right at them, like I always do, and the results were good."
That has not been the case for the postseason so far for Jeffress, who held opponents to a .182 average with a 1.29 ERA in a team-high 73 appearances while making the NL All-Star team in the regular season, only to allow 11 hits with a 7.71 ERA while appearing in each of Milwaukee's first five postseason games. Of the 11 runs scored by opponents in the postseason, eight have scored with Jeffress on the mound.
That included two big runs on Saturday in Game 2 of the NLCS, when Jeffress surrendered a go-ahead home run to Turner in the Brewers' 4-3 loss, then he made postgame news by referring to opponents as "lucky." The next day, Jeffress clarified that he did not mean to lump Turner's homer in that group, but the Dodger Stadium organist nonetheless delivered a jab when he played "Lucky Man" by The Verve as Turner prepared to bat against Jeffress to open the bottom of the ninth inning on Monday.
Well, I'm a lucky man
With fire in my hands
Turner started things with a sharp single over second base, and Manny Machado followed with a double that put runners at second and third with none out. Jeffress, topping out at 96.7 mph, conjured an escape, getting Cody Bellinger to pop up to shortstop before a walk to Yasiel Puig loaded the bases and brought the potential tying run to the plate for Grandal, and then Dozier.
Both struck out, Grandal swinging at a knuckle curve and Dozier looking at a fastball on the outside corner that followed three straight curves.
"I've said it all year: I strive for those moments," Jeffress said. "That's like an extra adrenaline rush. I didn't really want it to get like that, but when those times come, you just have to stay within yourself and continue to be the pitcher you are."
Jeffress said he was "very grateful" for the vote of confidence from manager Craig Counsell, who said in the wake of Game 2's letdown that for the Brewers to get to where they want to go -- the World Series -- Jeffress will have to play a significant role.
On Monday, Counsell backed those words with bold action. He could have stuck with Hader, who had thrown just eight pitches while striking out David Freese and Matt Kemp to end the eighth inning.
"That's the debate, you know?" Counsell said. "We've got Jeremy Jeffress, who has been an All-Star this year and pitched huge, huge moments for us during the season. We've got a four-run lead. I trust him to get those outs. The ninth inning was entertaining -- but they didn't score."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.