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Brewers lose Game 7 of NLCS

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after beating the Milwaukee Brewers, 5-1, in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at Miller Park in Milwaukee. 

MILWAUKEE − As we heard over and over the last two days, the two greatest words in sports are "game seven."

Milwaukee Brewers fans now know they can be two of the most heartbreaking words in sports as well.

The Brewers' renaissance of a season, which had been building steam since mid-August, came to an abrupt halt in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series Saturday night at Miller Park. Milwaukee's 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers silenced the roaring home crowd and left the Brewers one game short of the the World Series, a destination the franchise hasn't reached since 1982.

Game 7 against the Dodgers was the closest the Brewers have come to baseball's version of heaven in 36 years, making it painful to endure such a sudden end to a season in which Milwaukee flouted conventional baseball wisdom, won 103 games and captivated fans from one end of Wisconsin to the other. The Brewers hadn't played in a winner-take-all postseason game since Game 7 of the 1982 World Series − a 6-3 loss at St. Louis − and optimism was running high after they seized the momentum with a 7-2 trouncing of the Dodgers Friday night.

That made Saturday night's strategy-dominated, tension-filled loss a first for several generations of Brewers fans too young to remember 1982. History would suggest they will have a long wait until the Brewers are in this position again. In this case, however, history could be mistaken.

Even though their usual winning formula − grab the early lead and turn the game over to the bullpen − didn't materialize against Dodgers phenom Walker Buehler, their vaunted bullpen gave up a game-turning, three-run home run to Yasiel Puig in the sixth inning and they couldn't make one of their patented late-inning comebacks against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and ace Clayton Kershaw, the Brewers proved to everyone that they will be competing for division titles and postseason berths for years to come.

"As we get further away from the loss, I think we'll all be able to step back and appreciate what an incredible year it was, what a journey we've been on, especially the ride that we've been on over the last month," outfielder Ryan Braun said. "It's something that's incredibly encouraging for us as an organization moving forward."

Reaching Game 7 was fitting for this series because the Brewers and Dodgers were as evenly matched as two teams could be despite dramatically different styles. The Dodgers rely on their starting rotation, the Brewers depend on their deep bullpen. The Dodgers platoon at multiple positions, the Brewers change their lineup daily based on matchups.

As happens so often in sports, however, the clash of styles made for an interesting, evenly contested fight. How even? The Brewers scored 24 runs in seven games, the Dodgers 23. That competitive equality is important in evaluating the Brewers because the Dodgers are NL royalty, having won six straight West Division titles and claiming the NL pennant last season.

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So even though the thrills are gone, the future is bright for Milwaukee. The Brewers may have fallen one game short of the World Series, but they're set up for big things. The rebuild orchestrated by general manager David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell not only turned them into contenders a few years before anyone suspected, it left them in a position to sustain that success.

Outfielder Lorenzo Cain played for the Royals when they lost Game 7 of the World Series in 2014, then went back and won the World Series the following year. He sees some parallels between those Royals and these Brewers.

"We made it to the World Series and lost in game seven, but everybody showed up ready to go that next year and we ended up going back to the World Series and we won," Cain said. "We can definitely go out there and do the same thing with this team. We have a great group of guys that can really play."

Among the most important assets gained was postseason experience. The Brewers basically went into playoff mode in August and have been one of baseball's most formidable teams since then, going 33-13 prior to Saturday night, so they know what it takes.

The Brewers will have to to figure out if they want to keep third baseman Mike Moustakas and starters Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez, but the core of this team will be together next season and for several more after that.

This isn't like the 2011 Brewers team that lost to St. Louis in the NLCS. Back then, everyone knew slugger Prince Fielder was leaving in free agency.

"Prince was one of our best players and we recognized that it was very likely that we were going to lose him," Braun said. "You never know how things will play out with the team or what key free agents may or may not be back, but so much of our success came from young guys who obviously will be controlled for a number of years moving forward. So there's a lot of reasons for hope and optimism. But at the same time we were one game away from the World Series and we had an opportunity to play that game at home. We all know that no matter how good you are, those opportunities don't come around every year. Disappointing today, but certainly when we look at the group there's a lot of reasons for hope and optimism moving forward."

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. Better yet, it might last well into the future.

Bucky!

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Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com.

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