LOS ANGELES -- When the Brewers last played a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers put up a football score. They set a stadium record with 21 runs on Aug. 2, largely at Jhoulys Chacin's expense in a game so lopsided that Milwaukee sent not one but two position players to the mound.
"I know people might talk a lot about that," Chacin said with a shrug before taking the mound Monday with much higher stakes.
This time, the Brewers' steadiest starting pitcher all season gave the people something else to talk about -- and so did manager Craig Counsell, who sent Jeremy Jeffress back to the mound to acquire the final three outs with another wobbly postseason performance. Chacin delivered a shutout into the sixth inning and Jeffress escaped a ninth-inning scare to finish it -- a 4-0 win that put Milwaukee back on top in the National League Championship Series, two games to one.
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"I've been ready for this for almost 10 years," said Chacin, the 30-year-old onetime journeyman who parlayed a solid season in San Diego into a two-year deal with the Brewers, then became their de facto ace. "Now I am just enjoying this part of my career, enjoying pitching in the playoffs, and with a really good team. And hopefully I get a chance to be in the World Series."
Don't look now, but a team that allegedly doesn't have enough starting pitching is two victories shy of the World Series -- in no small part because of strong starting pitching. Including Chacin's 5 1/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers, Milwaukee's starters -- "initial out-getters" is more accurate, since Counsell has blurred the lines of pitching roles for going on a month now -- have a 0.35 ERA through six postseason games.
The offense once again came from all corners of the lineup. Ryan Braun doubled home a run in the first inning, Travis Shaw smashed a triple into the wind and scored on a wild pitch in the sixth, and surprise October slugger Orlando Arcia hit a fly ball in the seventh that rode that wind to the right-field seats for a two-run home run, his third long ball of the postseason.
Meanwhile, Chacin teamed with Corey Knebel, Joakim Soria, Josh Hader and Jeffress on a five-hit shutout in which none of the relievers threw more than 21 pitches. That sets up well for the next two games in as many days.
The effort also handed the Dodgers their first shutout at home in the postseason since Game 1 of the 1983 NLCS against the Phillies.
"Our guys that we're giving the ball to at the start of the game, they're doing a heck of a job, man," said Counsell. "They're setting the tone, really, for games. They're putting us in a very advantageous position to use our guys in the bullpen. And that's going to lead to wins."
Three of the Brewers' five wins in these playoffs have been shutouts, though this one didn't come easily. Jeffress, who entered the night with a 7.71 ERA in the postseason, surrendered a leadoff single to Dodgers Game 2 hero Justin Turner to open the ninth before Manny Machado doubled and Yasiel Puig walked one out later.
But Jeffress escaped, striking out struggling Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal and pinch-hitter James Dozier to push the Brewers within two victories of the World Series.
"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."
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In the history of best-of-seven series with the 2-3-2 format, teams that win Game 3 on the road to grab a 2-1 advantage have gone on to take the series 27 of 36 times (75 percent).
But that history lesson was just the start of why Game 3 had the potential to pivot the series. After Milwaukee's stout bullpen squandered a three-run lead with nine outs to go in Game 2, the Brewers sent Chacin to the mound opposite talented Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler. They were eager to take a game ahead of a possible bullpen day started by Giovany Gonzalez in Game 4, with left-hander Wade Miley scheduled to pitch on short rest in Game 5.
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That left a lot on Chacin's shoulders, and he carried the load. With his sensational slider providing the punchout pitch for five of his six strikeouts, the right-hander blanked L.A. on three hits, yielding to the bullpen with one out in the sixth after third baseman Mike Moustakas' throwing error put a runner in scoring position with less than two outs for the second straight inning.
The bullpen took it from there.
"It doesn't matter who is the hero, if it's going to be Orlando or Braun or the bullpen," Chacin said. "It doesn't matter who does the job; if we do the job and win the game, that's all that matters."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Orlando magic: Arcia has three home runs in the Brewers' last 28 innings, matching his total from 348 at-bats during a regular season in which he was twice demoted to the Minor Leagues to work on his hitting. He joined Roberto Perez (2016) and Willie Randolph (1981) as the only players in history to follow a regular season of three or fewer home runs with three or more in the playoffs.
"Every player is going to have their ups and downs, and this year was definitely a lot of downs for me, and things weren't going my way so they sent me down," Arcia said. "I was able to work on stuff, recognize pitches, and especially breaking balls. And now I do my adjustments and things have been working better. Now we're up here in the playoffs."
• Arcia boosts Crew with 3rd postseason HR
Caught looking: The Dodgers' best chance for a big inning against Chacin came in the second, when Puig's double put runners at second and third with one out for Grandal, who struck out on an elevated four-seam fastball. Chacin's emotional reaction showed the importance of that out; it allowed him to intentionally walk Enrique Hernandez to get to Buehler in the nine-hole. The Dodgers' pitcher fouled off one two-strike slider and looked at another just below the zone, but Chacin threw the pitch again and got the called third strike he was seeking.
Because of Chacin's ability to alter the shape and velocity of his slider, veteran catcher Erik Kratz isn't exactly sure what he's going to get when he calls for it.
"You call it, and he's got about four," Kratz said with a laugh.
Stranded: Chacin stranded a runner at second base with a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning, then combined with reliever Knebel to do it again with a 2-0 lead in the sixth after Moustakas' throwing error. Naturally, the very next ball in play was a 110.5-mph grounder right at the third baseman Moustakas, who converted this time. Knebel then fired a 97-mph fastball past Cody Bellinger to end the inning.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Braun, the Los Angeles native and the only player remaining from Milwaukee's last postseason team in 2011, provided an early Brewers lead when he followed Christian Yelich's walk with a double to left field that left Braun's bat at 112.9 mph, according to Statcast™, matching the second-highest exit velocity for any of his base hits in 2018. Yelich moved fast, too, posting an elite 30 feet per second sprint speed while going first to home in 9.87 seconds for a 1-0 advantage.
HE SAID IT
"In that sixth inning, we're there on the mound together, with [Chacin's] years bouncing around from team to team, got a nice contract this offseason; and somehow I come from Scranton, Pa., to be on the mound with him. I have so many stories like that. We're so intertwined. … In this moment, you don't sit back and think about it, but in November and December when it's snowing and there's football on, that's when you think about that kind of stuff. If you don't I think you're selling yourself short in the experience." -- Kratz, reflecting on the winding road he and Chacin took to the 2018 Brewers
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Brewers benefited from the "Chase Utley" slide rule to escape a budding Dodgers rally in the fourth. Bellinger grounded into a 3-6 force play with no outs, with Machado out at second. But the Brewers challenged, arguing that Machado had violated the slide rule. Machado raised his arm as he slid into Brewers shortstop Arcia, whose throw to first was too late for a double play. Machado also slid to the left of the bag and didn't maintain contact, which a runner must attempt to do by rule. The Brewers' hunch paid off. The replay official in New York determined that Machado did not engage in a bona fide slide and impeded Arcia with his arm. It resulted in a double play. A groundout by Puig to a diving Moustakas ended the inning one batter later.
It was the second time the Brewers questioned a Machado slide into Arcia.
"On the first one, I didn't think there was anything wrong. On the second one, definitely felt a little more," Arcia said. "He grabbed my knee towards the end, and that's when I turned around and said something to the umpire."