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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

In NLCS Game 5, ace in the hole beats trick up the sleeve

Los Angeles Dodgers's Clayton Kershaw gestures after an

Los Angeles Dodgers's Clayton Kershaw gestures after an out during the seventh inning of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Los Angeles.  Credit: AP/Jae Hong


Neanderthals 5, Nerds 2.

The Dodgers’ Game 5 victory Wednesday over the Brewers at Chavez Ravine was significant for propelling them to the brink of the World Series, but it also was a convincing win for the analog crowd, the dying breed that favors archaic notions like bunts, takeout slides and a starting pitcher that stays in the game longer than it takes to gulp down your first hot dog.

Clayton Kershaw, possibly in his final game wearing white at Dodger Stadium, turned in a throwback performance that reminded everyone of a bygone era — say 2017 — before front offices became breathlessly obsessed with cutting-edge concepts like bullpenning and openers.

And while the Dodgers leaned on Kershaw, who allowed only one run and struck out nine over seven innings, the Brewers resorted to NextGen trickery with their presumptive starter, Wade Miley. After going through the usual routine of trotting Miley out for his Tuesday news conference and coaxing Dave Roberts into planning accordingly for the lefty’s start, the Brewers pulled the ol’ bait-and-switch Wednesday in the bottom half of the first inning, yanking him after a five-pitch walk to Cody Bellinger.

Following the loss, Craig Counsell was asked why the Brewers resorted to the “subterfuge” of naming Miley as the the starter, when they clearly wanted to save him for Friday’s Game 6 at Miller Park. Why not just start Brandon Woodruff, who pitched 5  1⁄3 solid innings anyway?

“I don’t know what ‘subterfuge’ means,” said Counsell, smiling. (he went to Notre Dame, so he’s no dummy). Finally, he relented. “Look, they’re trying to get matchups, we’re trying to get matchups. They’re a very tough team to get matchups against. And we were able to give Woody some matchups.”

Not entirely. Roberts sounded annoyed with the Brewers for the stunt, and gave the impression he was not fooled by it. The Dodgers’ lineup was different from the Game 1 clash with Miley, as Roberts inserted Bellinger in the leadoff spot and also started Max Muncy, another lefthanded bat.

“You’ve got to prepare for the unexpected,” Roberts said. “So I like where we were at. It was very unconventional, but we were prepared for anything.”

The rest of Dodger Stadium was completely baffled, however, when Counsell emerged from the dugout to remove Miley after five pitches, with no apparent sign of injury. If Roberts was ready for what happened, he was part of a select group.

“I was just thinking that now I have to get Woodruff out,” Kershaw said. “Obviously, I didn’t expect Miley to come out after one batter.”

By now, we’re all well-versed in the practice of using openers, as the ultra-progressive Rays regularly deployed this season. Earlier this month, the A’s went that route against the Yankees in the wild-card game and got burned when reliever Liam Hendriks put them in a 2-0 hole in the first inning.

The Brewers could have said from the jump that Wednesday would be a bullpen game, and simply announce Miley as their starter for Friday’s Game 6 at Miller Park. Their rotation has pitched a total of 14 innings through the first five games, so there was no shame in punting for the weekend, when they could use Miley and (probably) Game 3 winner Jhoulys Chacin back in Milwaukee to save their season.

They knew well in advance, too. Counsell said the plan went into motion as soon as the Brewers won Monday’s Game 3, assuring they wouldn’t face elimination in L.A. Not only did they preserve Miley for Game 6, but the bullpen’s top arms weren’t used in Wednesday’s loss, so that group will be fully rested for the possible back-to-back assignments this coming weekend.

“We’re going home in a position of strength,” Counsell said. “And that’s part of it. We’re in a good spot, man. We have a chance to win this thing with a bunch of guys in really good shape.”

This was all legal gamesmanship, the Miley gambit, but Kershaw’s dominance made any matchup-edge moot for the Brewers. The old-fashioned ace still triumphed, at least for another day.

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