Too close for comfort
Brewers hang on to take 1-0 lead in the series
The Milwaukee Brewers machine just keeps on chugging along.
Revitalized by a four-day break and more than up to the task against ace Clayton Kershaw, the Brewers remained undefeated in the postseason and ran their overall winning streak to 12 games by holding on to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-5, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Miller Park on Friday night.
The offense chased Kershaw after just three innings, with an improbable home run by reliever Brandon Woodruff getting Milwaukee on the board. Four more runs spanning the third and fourth provided some breathing room, and the Brewers once again utilized an allhands-on-deck pitching performance to finish it off.
The NLCS victory was Milwaukee's first since Oct. 13, 2011 and ran their 2018 postseason record to 4-0. A victory in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon would tie the Brewers' franchise record of 13 straight, which was first accomplished in 1987.
What had been a fairly comfortable 6-1 Brewers lead was whittled down quickly in the game's final two innings.
The Dodgers made things interesting by scoring three times in the eighth off Jeremy Jeffress and then things became even more nerve-wracking in the ninth when Corey Knebel took the mound.
Nursing a 6-4 lead at that point, Milwaukee used a second successful challenge to overturn a Cody Bellinger infield single that opened the inning. Knebel struck out Yasmani Grandal before
walking Joc Pederson to turn the lineup over for Los Angeles.
Leadoff man Chris Taylor responded by tripling to the gap in right-center to score Pederson and pull the Dodgers within a run. That brought up the dangerous Justin Turner, who worked a sixpitch at-bat from Knebel before striking out on a 97-mph fastball up and out of the strike zone.
Lefties Gio Gonzalez and Kershaw exchanged scoreless first innings, with Kershaw needing to throw 23 pitches to eventually strand Lorenzo Cain at second base.
Manny Machado then touched Gonzalez up with a laser-beam homer over the wall in left-center to lead off the second and leave the Brewers trailing for the first time in the postseason at 1-0.
It was also the first homer surrendered by Milwaukee.
Gonzalez finished up the frame with no further damage and then was lifted in the third for Woodruff, who retired Los Angeles in order.
Woodruff's spot was due up to open the Brewers' third, and wanting multiple innings from the right-hander, manager Craig Counsell let him hit for himself.
What a decision that turned out to be. Six pitches into the at-bat, Kershaw threw a belt-high fastball that Woodruff crushed off the corner of the scoreboard in right-center to knot things up at 1-1.
It was the 22nd homer ever hit by a pitcher in the postseason and just the third ever hit by a reliever, as Woodruff joined Rosy Ryan (1924 World Series, Game 3) and Travis Wood (2016 NLDS, Game 2).
It was also the fourth-ever homer hit by a pitcher off Kershaw.
Woodruff, who'd homered once previously -- on July 13 in Pittsburgh -- let out a huge roar as he rounded first, then he briefly turned and looked into the Brewers' dugout before completing his trot around the bases while the sellout crowd of 43,615 went wild.
DECORATED VETERAN: Kershaw entered Friday holding franchise postseason records for victories (eight), starts (20), innings (130), strikeouts (142) and losses (seven). In the past two postseasons, Kershaw is 4-0 with a 3.07 ERA while limiting opponents to a .162 batting average over seven appearances (six starts).
LOTS OF SUCCESS: Yelich came into the night a .529 career hitter against Kershaw, including .667 with two homers this season. His .529 average was tied with Arizona's Chris Stewart for the highest of any player in the major leagues against Kershaw (minimum of 15 at-bats). He struck out and walked in two plate appearances against Kershaw
THE 'PEN IS MIGHTIER:
Milwaukee's bullpen closed out the regular season with a 1.72 ERA from Sept. 2 onward. That was the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors, more than a run better than the second-place Dodgers (2.94). Brewers relievers came into the game having not allowed a run in their last 9 1/3 innings. The longest such streak in franchise history was 16, in 2008.
MOVING UP THE RANKS:
Braun became the Brewers' franchise leader by playing in his 18th postseason game in Game 3 of the NLDS at Colorado. Braun also is the club's all-time leader in postseason hit with 28 (including six this year), and he tied Cecil Cooper for first all-time with his 13th RBI. His two career postseason homers are tied for fourth behind Prince Fielder (four) and Paul Molitor and Ted Simmons (three apiece).
A GRAND ADDITION:
A year ago at this time, Curtis Granderson was a member of a Dodgers team that would eventually advance to the World Series. Now he's playing against Los Angeles after a late-season trade that brought him to Milwaukee from Toronto.
"We've added really quality people that have really added just to the clubhouse and our team element, and Curtis is at the top of the list," Counsell said.
Catcher Erik Kratz congratulates reliever Corey Knebel after the Brewers escaped with a victory Friday night at Miller Park in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
Reliever Brandon Woodruff gets the Brewers on the board with a homer run in the third inning Friday night.