LOS ANGELES — The first act of NLCS Game 3 played out much as Game 2 did: the Brewers carrying a small lead into the middle innings, Milwaukee’s starter cruising into the sixth and manager Craig Counsell dipping into the bullpen at the first hint of trouble.
But with a rewritten ending — specifically, a return to dominance for the bullpen — the Brewers beat the Dodgers, 4-0, on Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Milwaukee leads the best-of-seven series two games to one.
Jeremy Jeffress loaded the bases with one out in the ninth but escaped by striking out Yasmani Grandal and pinch hitter Brian Dozier. “The ninth inning was . . . ,” Counsell said, pausing to choose the right word. “Entertaining. But they didn’t score.”
Jhoulys Chacin lasted 5 1⁄3 innings and Corey Knebel (five outs), Joakim Soria (one out), Josh Hader (two outs) and Jeffress (three outs) finished it out. The first trio of relievers didn’t allow a baserunner and struck out six of eight batters.
The Dodgers went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left eight runners on base. Grandal was 1-for-4 with three strikeouts and five runners left on, plus a passed ball and a run-scoring wild pitch on Walker Buehler’s curveball in the dirt. He drew boos in the ninth.
“In moments of leverage in the box, I see him getting a little too anxious,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said.
Counsell lifted Chacin (86 pitches) after Justin Turner reached on Mike Moustakas’ throwing error. He made a similar move Saturday, taking out Wade Miley after 5 2⁄3 scoreless innings and a two-out single, in line with his philosophy of not letting a starter face the toughest part of the Dodgers’ lineup a third time. It backfired Saturday when Los Angeles came back to win. This time it worked.
Milwaukee’s starters, a word Counsell tries not to use, have allowed one earned run in 25 2⁄3 innings (0.35 ERA) in six postseason games. “Our guys that we’re giving the ball to at the start of the game, they’re doing a heck of a job, man,” he said. “They’re setting the tone really for games. They’re putting us in a good position. They’re putting us in a very advantageous position to use our guys in the bullpen. And then that’s going to lead to wins.”
This win came at a cost: All of the Brewers’ big three in the back end — Hader (eight pitches), Jeffress (21) and Knebel (19) — pitched. Their workload has been heavy this month, but this time they at least had limited pitch counts.
With a four-run lead in the seventh, Counsell considered not using either Hader or Jeffress. He wound up using both.
“There certainly was a thought,” Counsell said. “Really, it’s at some point the other team is pretty good and you respect their hitters on their team. And I thought getting [Joc] Pederson and [Max] Muncy out of the game for pinch hitters with Josh was a good way to get outs. Josh did limited work tonight. [Jeffress] finished it off. So we feel like we’re in really good shape.”
The Brewers struck in the first inning when rookie righthander Buehler walked Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun hammered a double into the leftfield corner.
Buehler (seven innings, four runs) answered by retiring 16 of the next 18 batters, but he faltered in the sixth. Travis Shaw launched a two-out triple to right-center, where Cody Bellinger nearly made a leaping catch at the wall. Shaw scored when Buehler bounced a 1-and-0 curve in the dirt and Grandal, back in the lineup after a defensively horrid Game 1, let it get away for a wild pitch.
Then came Orlando Arcia’s two-run homer in the seventh. The No. 8 hitter, who slugged .307 in the regular season and is in the lineup largely for his defense at shortstop, snuck a Buehler fastball over the wall and a leaping Yasiel Puig in the rightfield corner, an estimated 356 feet from home. It was Arcia’s second homer in as many games and third in six playoff games, matching his total from 119 regular-season contests.
“He’s wired the right way for this kind of baseball,” Counsell said. “Orlando has always been a guy that you want to put pressure on him, put a big moment on him, put the spotlight on him. He loves it. And I’m not surprised that he’s thriving in a playoff atmosphere.”