MILWAUKEE — Justin Turner kept his bat pointed high above his head because he earned the right to, because he had just crushed a baseball that flew into the second deck and woke up a Los Angeles Dodgers dugout that, moments before, was brimming with blank stares.
Turner’s two-run home run, off Milwaukee Brewers all-star reliever Jeremy Jeffress, with no outs in the eighth inning of a game the Brewers once owned, delivered a 4-3 win for the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday. The blast also lifted a team that was reeling toward back-to-back losses and showed that, despite their reputations, the Brewers’ bullpen is beatable and the Dodgers can win without dominant starting pitching.
Before stepping into the batter’s box against Jeffress, Turner struck out four times in Game 1, poked a single in the first inning of Game 2 and was again bothered by the Brewers’ approach in his next two at-bats. Then the third baseman struck the biggest hit of the best-of-seven series, tying it at a 1-1 as it swings to Los Angeles for three games starting Monday.
“It takes a special athlete to have a night like he had last night and to show up the next day in a big spot and want to have the bat in your hand,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts said. “And Justin is that guy, and those are hard to come by.”
It felt as if Miller Park were shaking a hangover Saturday morning, as if the stadium’s shades were still drawn, with the field quiet and dimmed aside from a few specks of orange light. A pair of Dodgers slowly jogged around the warning track. The concourse smelled like the first batch of cheese curds that would soon multiply into thousands of pieces of fried dairy. Two Brewers fans waited outside the ticket window, winter hats on, coats zipped up, and lobbed a baseball through the wind-whipped air as first pitch neared.
The night before, in a game this city waited seven years for, the Brewers earned a 6-5 win that flirted with disaster. The Dodgers staged a late rally against the Brewers’ feared bullpen, and put the tying run on third base before Corey Knebel struck out Turner to end it. Earlier in the game, Brandon Woodruff became the first Brewers reliever to hit a postseason home run when he clubbed a fastball way over the right-center-field wall. And that fastball was thrown by Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ ace, one of the best pitchers of the last decade, who lasted just three innings before Roberts reached into his bullpen.
The Dodgers’ relievers were solid. The Brewers’, aside from Josh Hader, were not. But when all the outs and absurdities were added up, they totaled the Brewers’ 12th straight victory, and now all of Milwaukee can get a free hamburger at George Webb from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday.
That was a lot to wake up to.
“We feel good because even though we played our worst baseball yesterday, we still felt like we almost got that win,” Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said Saturday, shortly after he recorded the last three outs of the game. “Today, we come from behind and get to that bullpen and it felt great. It feels great to be going home tied 1-1.”
Game 2 was much more normal — at least at the beginning, at least by October’s twisted standards — as both starters settled into an early groove.
Wade Miley, the Brewers lefty who led Roberts to stack his lineup with eight right-handed hitters, leaned on his cutter to retire 16 consecutive Dodgers between the first inning and the sixth. Hyun-jin Ryu, the Dodgers lefty who threw seven scoreless innings in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, matched Miley until trouble stirred in the bottom of the fifth. That was when shortstop Orlando Arcia sneaked a home run over the center field wall, his second of the playoffs after hitting just three in 119 regular season games. Ryu was soon hooked after 4 ⅓ innings, the Brewed added another run in the frame and scored again when Travis Shaw homered in the sixth.
That was just after Miley exited, to a standing ovation after 5 ⅓ scoreless frames, and the Dodgers now stared down the Brewers’ bullpen, a three-run deficit in the game, and a possible 2-0 hole in the series. But they pieced together a seventh-inning rally to pull within one run, on an RBI single for Cody Bellinger and RBI walk for Austin Barnes, before the game found Turner, who has collected so many clutch hits for the Dodgers, and who was ready for one more.
The Brewers had beaten him with high pitches across Games 1 and 2, one after another after another, but Jeffress did not take the same approach. The right-handed reliever missed inside with a two-seam fastball and low with a splitter, then threw his next pitch somewhere between the two. Turner got every bit of the change-up and the Dodgers’ dugout leaped into motion as he trotted along the first base line, their limbs twitched by sudden energy, their faces filled with relief.
“I was just trying to get something up, and as soon as I hit it, it felt good,” Turner said. “I knew it was a homer, and it’s cool to run around the bases and see all your teammates going crazy, jumping up and down and waiting for you. That was pretty cool.”
The Dodgers could then take comfort in this game following a more traditional script, that their offense completed a comeback, that the Brewers bullpen has not been as dominant as advertised, and that they left Miller Park much like they found it at the start of the day, quiet and emptying, wondering what could possibly happen next.