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Cody Bellinger home run

Los Angeles' Cody Bellinger runs bases after hitting a two-run home run during the second inning of the Dodgers' 5-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Milwaukee. 

MILWAUKEE – The party’s over.

After staging celebrations in St. Louis, Chicago and Denver, the Milwaukee Brewers could only sit back and watch the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate at Miller Park on Saturday night.

The Brewers’ quest for the second World Series appearance in franchise history came up one game short in a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers.

So while the Dodgers will head to Boston to face the American League champion Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, the Brewers will go their separate ways with a head full of fond memories and a lingering bit of pain from having come so close to their goal only to fall short.

It was a bittersweet ending to an otherwise glorious season for the Brewers, who exceeded nearly all expectations to get within one game of the World Series.

“This is my 12th year in the big leagues and I know how rare it is to have an opportunity to play in meaningful games down the stretch,” said Ryan Braun. “It was a special journey, a special experience that doesn’t come along every year.

“I’ve never been one game away from the World Series. The fact that we got to play this game at home, absolutely, this was the toughest loss for me."

The death blows to the Brewers’ dream came in a one-two punch from the glove of left fielder Chris Taylor and the bat of Yasiel Puig.

Taylor made a spectacular sprawling catch of a line drive by Christian Yelich that would’ve brought home the tying run in the fifth inning.

And Puig blew the game open a half inning later with a three-run home run off beleaguered reliever Jeremy Jeffress to turn a 2-1 nail-biter into a comfortable margin for the Dodgers bullpen to nail down.

Usual closer Kenley Jansen was called upon early to get four outs to earn the victory, before turning the ball over to ace starter Clayton Kershaw, who pitched a perfect ninth to lock down the win and set off the celebration in the middle of the infield.

Braun, who watched Taylor’s circus catch from the on-deck circle, saw that as the turning point of the night.

“Obviously, that was the play of the game,” Braun said. “That would’ve tied the game up and Yeli would’ve been in scoring position for me. A phenomenal play by him and they got a couple more runs and added on after that, but certainly that felt like the biggest play of the game.”

Manager Craig Counsell seconded that thought.

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“That was a great catch,” Counsell said. “At first glance, I didn’t think he was going to catch it. He covered a ton of ground. I felt like the ball was really hit hard. There was a gap where the ball is going and where he is and he made a wonderful catch.”

Puig’s blast then sucked the life out of the crowd and added to a tough postseason for Jeffress, who had an otherwise remarkable season. Ironically, Jeffress had struck out Puig five times in five career at-bats before that homer.

Counsell was at a loss to explain Jeffress’ postseason struggles.

“I don’t have the perfect answer for you,” he said. “This guy got outs better than anybody in the National League out of the bullpen this year. He was wonderful. And the playoffs did not go well for him.”

The evening started with great promise, with the sellout crowd of 44,097 in a festive mood in anticipation of team’s first trip to the fall classic since 1982.

Yelich got the crowd even more cranked up in the first inning when he drove a pitch from Walker Buehler just over the fence in right-center to stake the Brewers to a quick 1-0 lead and set off a chorus of “MVP” chants.

Little did they anticipate that that would be the highlight of the night for the Brewers.

The Dodgers didn’t wait long to strike back. Manny Machado led off the second by bunting a 3-2 pitch from Jhoulys Chacin for a base hit. Series MVP Cody Bellinger then belted a Chacin fastball into the right field loge above the Dodgers bullpen to give Los Angeles a 2-1 lead.

“It feels unbelievable,” Bellinger said.

Counsell wasted no time turning to Josh Hader, who was his usual overpowering self as he blanked the Dodgers on one hit over the next three innings.

Lefty Xavier Cedeno replaced Hader in the sixth and gave up a single to the only batter he faced, Max Muncy. Jeffress, who had an eventful postseason, was greeted by a single from Justin Turner, but he got two outs before Puig’s blast off the back wall in center.

While the Dodgers popped champagne corks in their clubhouse, the Brewers exchanged handshakes and hugs and said their goodbyes.

“It’s weird,” said Braun, the team’s longest tenured player. “It’s disappointing. It’s not the position we wanted to be in. We all go our separate ways. Guys live in separate states, separate countries. Everybody’s offseason will take them in a different direction and there are some guys in here who may not ever see each other again.

“It’s such an odd feeling but I think it’s a moment for all of us just to congratulate each other on what a special journey it’s been and let each other know that the whole experience was truly enjoyable this year.

“What I’ll carry with me is the celebrations. We got to celebrate three times and I’ve been around long enough to know that that doesn’t come along all that often and you have to cherish those opportunities when they do happen.”

Bucky!

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