MILWAUKEE – The starting pitching was superb. The relief effort went from shaky to disastrous.
It was like a journey to Bizarro World Saturday for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers, who have ridden their bullpen strength to the National League Championship Series, saw it fail them as they squandered a 3-0 lead in a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 before a sellout crowd of 43,905 at Miller Park.
The teams head to Los Angeles all square at one game apiece, with Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner providing the decisive blow with a two-run home run in the eighth inning off Jeremy Jeffress.
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Jeffress, who had gotten out of a jam in the seventh with a double-play ball after the Dodgers had scored their first two runs, gave up a leadoff single in the eighth to Chris Taylor on a chopper to third base.
Turner, who went 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in Game 1, more than made up for it when he ripped a 2-0 splitter from Jeffress into the loge level in left field to give the Dodgers the lead.
“I knew what I wanted to throw,” Jeffress said. “I got the ball up. Just make the pitch, that’s all I’ve got to do. When the ball’s in my hand, it’s my game. The pitch was just left up a little bit, just a tad, man. And he got it.”
It was sweet and sudden retribution for Turner, whose fourth strikeout on Friday night ended the game with Taylor on third base with the potential tying run.
“I think it’s well documented that was probably the worst game of my career offensively,” Turner said. “But I think you just shrug it off to about baseball.
“Obviously, I wasn’t feeling good about myself last night and wasn’t happy with the results. But today was a new day and another chance to go out and win a ballgame.”
For the first six innings, Saturday didn’t look much better for the Dodgers than the night before.
Brewers starter Wade Miley was in command after a little first inning scare in which center fielder Lorenzo Cain robbed David Freese of a two-run homer. That catch was the first of 16 consecutive batters retired by the veteran left-hander, until Taylor’s two-out single in the sixth.
Manager Craig Counsell went to his bullpen for rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes, who retired Turner on a fly ball to center to end the inning.
The quick trigger was consistent with the way Counsell has been using his starters most of the season and a measure of confidence he has in his bullpen.
“We were in really good shape with the effort that Wade gave us,” Counsell said. “He pitched beautifully.
“Look, you’re either going to be too early or too late. At some point, you’ve got to make a decision and I thought he was going through the heart of the lineup for the third time. He did his job, certainly, and he did a good 5 2/3. He did more than we expected, for sure.”
Dodgers starter Hyun-Jin Ryu matched Miley for the first four innings before the Brewers got to him in the fifth. Shortstop Orlando Arcia gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead on a one-out, solo homer to center.
Miley followed with his second hit of the game, a single to center and Lorenzo Cain knocked Ryu out of the game with a double to left. Reliever Ryan Madson walked Christian Yelich intentionally to load the bases and Miley scored on a slow roller to shortstop by Ryan Braun to make it 2-0.
Travis Shaw gave the Brewers a three-run cushion with a solo homer in the sixth off left-hander Alex Wood. But the Brewers offense would shut down after that.
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After successfully closing out the sixth inning, Burnes gave up a leadoff walk to Max Muncy, a single to Manny Machado and an RBI single to Cody Bellinger to open the seventh.
Counsell then turned to Jeffress in a departure from his usual ninth inning duties. He was greeted by a bloop single by Joc Pederson to load the bases. After striking out Yasiel Puig, Jeffress walked Austin Barnes on a 3-2 pitch to bring in the second run before coaxing pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal to hit into an inning-ending double play with the Brewers clinging to a one-run lead.
Counsell said he planned to stick with Jeffress for the first two hitters in the eighth before turning to Corey Knebel. But by then the Brewers were trailing by one.
“For me, J.J. made one bad pitch today and it cost him,” Counsell said. “And it was to a very good hitter.
“I think a lot of the other stuff he did today, he made some really good pitches. In a one-run game, you make a mistake to that kind of hitter and it’s going to hurt you.”
The Brewers got the potential tying run to second base against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth when Hernan Perez drew a one-out walk and stole second. But Jansen struck out Cain on three pitches and retired Yelich on a weak grounder to third to end the game.
The series shifts to Dodger Stadium for three games beginning Monday and Counsell expects more of the same for however long the series goes.
“It can’t get any closer after two games, right?” Counsell said. “It’s been two hard-fought games, two one-run games, tying run on base in scoring position to finish each game. So they’ve been about as close as they can be. So we’re looking forward to the next chapter.”