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MILWAUKEE — Numerous scoreboard messages directed Milwaukee Brewers fans to make themselves heard on Friday night.
They were merely extra glitz compared to the inspiration the Brewers’ bats provided.
Milwaukee scored four runs in the first inning and didn’t look back, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series to force a decisive seventh game at Miller Park on Saturday night.
“I thought the fans were going to open the roof, it was so loud,” Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress said. “It was unbelievable.”
Brewers right-hander Jhoulys Chacin is scheduled to oppose Dodgers righty Walker Buehler in the first Game 7 played in Milwaukee in Brewers franchise history.
Facing a must-win situation to keep their season alive, the Brewers responded Friday with an early offensive flurry to back left-hander Wade Miley and three relievers. Jesus Aguilar had three hits and three RBIs while Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun collected two hits apiece as the Brewers out-hit the Dodgers, 11-5.
“To score four right there in the first inning was very encouraging,” Braun said. “I think it was inspiring for us for the rest of the game and encouraging to move into tomorrow.”
Miley spaced two runs, five hits, two walks and four strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings after rebounding from an early Dodgers strike. Traditionally a threat in the middle of the batting order, Dodgers first baseman David Freese led off Friday and homered to right field on the fifth pitch of the game. Incidentally, Miley threw only five pitches when he walked Cody Bellinger to open Wednesday’s Game 5 in Los Angeles before immediately yielding to righty Brandon Woodruff.
While Game 5 marked an intended cameo for Miley — Brewers manager Craig Counsell still was addressing his gesture of gamesmanship Friday — Miley’s Game 6 outing was designed for a much longer haul. His first inning featured 25 pitches while his entire night had 87.
Milwaukee’s two-out eruption in the bottom of the first against Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu offered an invaluable boost. Aguilar opened the rally with a two-run, opposite-field double to right field, snapping out of a slump that had plagued the first baseman for much of the postseason.
“Aggie’s hit, you couldn’t describe it as any bigger,” Counsell said.
A Mike Moustakas double to right scored Aguilar on the next pitch, and catcher Erik Kratz’s RBI single sent Moustakas home one batter later. Even Miley tagged a ball, flying out to deep center to end the inning.
Entering Friday, Ryu (0-1) had not allowed four earned runs in any of his 17 previous starts in 2018, including postseason. With the Dodgers one victory away from advancing to successive World Series for the first time since 1977-78, he allowed four earned runs in the first inning and five on seven hits in three innings overall.
“That’s sort of the situation we were in,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They were taking good at-bats against him. There’s the thought of trying to go to your pen in the first inning or the second inning, but there’s a significant cost potentially for a potential Game 7.”
Buehler will be looking to neutralize what figures to be another full-throat crowd in a rematch of the pitching matchup in Game 3, which the Brewers won 4-0. The Brewers are seeking the franchise’s first World Series appearance since 1982.
“I mean, Game 7 to go to a World Series, I don’t know if it gets more high stakes than that,” Buehler said. “And I think if you approach it the right way — it’s hard to put into words what could happen and what we hope happens.”
Los Angeles finished 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base in Game 6. Milwaukee right-hander Corey Knebel escaped trouble against the heart of the Dodgers’ order in the fifth to set the tone for the bullpen, a Brewers’ strength throughout the playoffs.
Entering the game with two on and one out, Knebel got Justin Turner to fly out to center before retiring Manny Machado on a swinging strikeout to end the threat.
“Anybody, anywhere, anytime,” Knebel said, repeating the bullpen’s credo. “We’re ready to go. So starters get as much as they can get done, but you go as hard as you can for as long as you can, and come in and finish the rest. That’s our job and we did it pretty well tonight.”
Brewers fans roared in approval after the strikeout of Machado. Most in attendance booed the Dodgers shortstop whenever he batted or handled a defensive chance, reacting to a Game 4 incident in which Machado made contact with Aguilar while running through first base on a groundout.
Knebel (1-0) earned the victory with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out two and hitting a batter. Jeffress and Corbin Burnes combined to blank the Dodgers for the final three innings.
Freese drove in both Los Angeles runs and was the only Dodgers player with a multi-hit game.
The Los Angeles bullpen initially did its part, as well, with Julio Urias, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro and Caleb Ferguson combining on three innings of scoreless relief before Milwaukee scored two late runs charged to Kenta Maeda.
The Brewers seemingly gained an intangible advantage by not using left-handed relief specialist Josh Hader, who has 12 strikeouts in six scoreless postseason appearances covering seven innings.
“To have our bullpen still fresh, like we are, it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure on (the Dodgers),” Jeffress said.
—Kevin Druley, Field Level Media