MILWAUKEE -- The first blow came from the old nemesis, recast as a leadoff man -- another David Freese homer to silence another October crowd at Miller Park. The counter came collectively, the Brewers matching the jab with one, two, four of their own, the fruits of an ear-splitting rally that manager Craig Counsell said "lifted the roof off the place."
Safe at second, Mike Moustakas' arms flung up. On his back after sliding past home, Ryan Braun basked. Counsell sighed in the dugout, overcome with relief. It wasn't only how the four-spot against Hyun-Jin Ryu motored the Brewers toward a 7-2 win over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night. It was the ripple effects their first-inning rally set in motion, long before the ink on their series-evening win was dry.
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"Especially 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," Braun said. "I think it was inspiring for us for the rest of the game and encouraging for us to move into tomorrow."
Fueled by 43,619 fans, the Brewers could almost cruise the rest of the night to force a winner-take-all game on Saturday. They now set up as well as possible for that game: their relief corps rested, the momentum squarely on their side. Not only did the four-run first allow the Crew to save Josh Hader for Saturday, when it will take an even more all-hands-on-deck approach to run prevention. But it also marked a positive turnaround for several of Milwaukee's important hitters, like Jesus Aguilar, whose two-run double opened the scoring.
Aguilar doubled again and added an RBI single later in the night as well, marking the slugger's most productive game of the postseason. A force in the middle of the Brewers' lineup in his first full year, Aguilar entered play 5-for-32 (.172) this postseason.
"Tomorrow it can be somebody else, but tonight it was me," Aguilar said. "I'm really happy about it. It means I am getting hot, and hopefully I stay hot."
Aguilar was far from the only slumping Brewers hitter. Milwaukee entered Friday having scored just three runs over its previous 22 innings, and just seven combined over the three games of this NLCS in Los Angeles. Aguilar, Moustakas and Erik Kratz came in particularly cold, combining to go 7-for-50 (.140) in the series prior to the inning.
But that all changed after Lorenzo Cain led off against Ryu with an infield single, then advanced to second on a Christian Yelich grounder. Braun walked, setting up a two-on, one-out situation for Aguilar, who poked his two-bagger into the right-field corner.
"Aggie's hit, you couldn't describe it as any bigger," Counsell said. "The first inning was loud from then on."
Moustakas then pulled a similar double to score Aguilar, scoring on Kratz's opposite-field hit a batter later. All told, it marked just the seventh time in 491 half-innings this postseason that a team put up a four-spot or better, according to MLB Network research. Two of the previous six involved a grand slam (Ronald Acuna Jr., Jackie Bradley Jr.).
The four-run output was the largest in any inning this postseason for the Crew, and it came directly after what Kratz called "a gut punch" from Freese, who has made a career of hitting dramatic postseason home runs. Freese is better remembered for his famous walk-off homer for the Cardinals against the Rangers in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, but few in Milwaukee forget that he earned NLCS MVP Award honors that year as well, after hitting .545 with three home runs in six games against the Brewers.
Freese's first-inning homer in Game 6 that year, also at Miller Park, put the series on ice for St. Louis. His first-inning homer in this Game 6 only lit a fire under the Crew.
"Then, the energy was back," Aguilar said. "I can't wait for tomorrow."