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Dodgers win NLCS Game 7, advance to World Series

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after Game 7

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after Game 7 of the National League Championship Series baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Milwaukee. The Dodgers won 5-1 to win the series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Credit: AP/Matt Slocum

MILWAUKEE — Yasiel Puig’s trip around the bases Saturday night began with a bat flip and transitioned into a sprint to first, but when he saw that his line drive had just enough height to clear the left-centerfield wall for a game- and season-changing home run, he went into full-blown taunt mode.

Rounding first, Puig raised his arms and repeatedly folded both sets of fingers forward as if to say: Bring it! He did it again coming around second, and Manny Machado, a villain in Milwaukee, did the same after popping out of the Dodgers’ dugout. The Miller Park crowd, so raucous so often this month, was silent.

Upon returning to the dugout, a roaring Puig pounded his chest and slid his thumb across his throat, suggesting his three-run homer in the sixth inning meant the Brewers’ season was over.

It was. Clayton Kershaw made a rare relief appearance with a perfect ninth inning, and Los Angeles beat Milwaukee, 5-1, in NLCS Game 7 to advance to the World Series for the second year in a row. The Dodgers will play the American League champion Red Sox, with Game 1 set for Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

“We know how hard it is to make the World Series,” said NLCS MVP Cody Bellinger, who has been to the Fall Classic in both of his major-league seasons. “To do it two years in a row is really special.”

For the Dodgers, it’s another chance at championship glory. Although they have won six straight NL West titles, they have reached the World Series only once in that span, losing to the Astros in 2017. The Dodgers have not won it all since 1988.

For the Brewers, it was a disappointing end to a wildly successful season, including a league-high 96 wins and an NL Central championship. In 50 seasons, they have been to the World Series once (1982) and never won.

“This team, what I just told them is that they took us on an amazing journey,” manager Craig Counsell said. “They took us on an incredible journey that we should all be grateful for.”

The second inning was an early turning point. Machado, who kicked Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar during a routine play in Los Angeles this past week, led off and was greeted by loud, sustained boos before each pitch, with chants of “Manny [stinks]!” mixed in. Annoyed by a quick pitch from righthander Jhoulys Chacin, Machado dropped a full-count bunt toward third base for a single and grabbed his crotch after running through first. The chant switched to “You still [stink]!”

“I can’t say what I really want to say,” Machado said after dumping champagne on legendary Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, 91. “They’re always going to boo the best.”

Then Bellinger got hold of a 90-mph fastball from Chacin and mashed it 425 feet into the rightfield seats above the visitors’ bullpen for a 2-1 Dodgers lead.

Milwaukee nearly tied it in the fifth — moments before Puig’s blast — when Christian Yelich sent a two-out drive to deep left with Lorenzo Cain on second. Chris Taylor made a sliding catch on the warning track to end the inning.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called it “a game-saving play.” Bellinger thought it was “the catch of the year.” Counsell said he “didn’t think [Taylor] was going to catch it.”

“It’s so loud in there, calling for the ball does no good,” Taylor said. “Just get to the spot. And obviously I wanted to find [Bellinger, the centerfielder]. It was right in between us. Trying to get a feel for where he was and whose ball it was going to be.”

Said Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman: “I don’t want to say we take it for granted, but it wasn’t surprising.”

Puig’s stunner was a feat of strength. Jeremy Jeffress, who also gave up a critical two-run homer to Justin Turner in Game 2, offered Puig a 1-and-1 curveball down and away. Puig reached for it and very much got it, enough to pull it to left-center. That offered Friedman the opportunity to take a shot at Jeffress, who called Turner’s homer “lucky.”

“There’s times when it can be frustrating with Puig, but his talent is as good as it gets,” Friedman said. “That curveball from Jeffress tonight was extremely well located. I may even allow him to say lucky on that one.”

Dodgers rookie righthander Walker Buehler went 4 2⁄3 innings and allowed one run (six hits, no walks), striking out seven. The only blemish came in the first, when Yelich’s fly ball to right-center got over the wall — and Puig’s glove — with several inches to spare, the first RBI in an otherwise quiet series for Yelich, the likely NL MVP.

Brewers reliever Josh Hader tossed three scoreless innings. The Dodgers scored in the innings immediately before (second) and after (sixth) his appearance.

“We’re just happy that we came out on top,” Machado said. “Like always.”

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