They are generally considered the two coolest words in sports.
After a long Friday night spent surrounded by flapping yellow towels and hacking Milwaukee Brewers, the Dodgers might argue that point.
Game … um … er … 7?
Believe it, the Brewers forced it, and now the Dodgers must marinate in it after Milwaukee’s 7-2 victory at Miller Park in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, tying the series at three games apiece.
Game Freaking 7.
On Saturday night here these two teams will meet with the winner advancing to next week’s World Series against the Boston Red Sox, and the loser left wondering what happened.
If that team is the Dodgers, that pondering will date to late Friday night in a clubhouse where many players remained in their uniforms long after the last pitch, quietly studying video between bites of their postgame meals.
“The whole year we played like this, do or die, we play 163 games, do or die, and here we are again, do or die,” said reliever Kenley Jansen.
When this series began in what feels like a month ago, the schedule read, “Game 7, if necessary.”
The Dodgers won two straight from the Brewers in L.A. earlier this week and buoyantly flew here just nine innings from a series win and guess what happened? Yep, they took the field and suddenly made Game 7 necessary.
A struggling Hyun-Jin Ryu made it necessary, as he allowed a season-worst five earned runs in three innings. A spooked Manny Machado made it necessary, as he went hitless in four at-bats, never getting the ball out of the infield, failing to advance three runners, all while being roundly booed with every move. Aggressive and smart Brewers bats made it necessary with 11 hits and baserunners everywhere.
And, of course, there was the requisite wild pitch with Yasmani Grandal that felt completely unnecessary but, coming off the arm of Kenta Maeda, allowed another run to score and help make Game 7 particularly necessary.
“It can’t be a disappointment, the series is not over, there is still 27 outs to play, I don’t think there’s any disappointment,” said Jansen.
The Dodgers must nonetheless fight those feelings, especially considering how quickly they tumbled.
The evening began with David Freese driving the fifth pitch of the game over the right-center field fence as his teammates jumped over the dugout rail for what they hoped would be the beginning of a three-hour celebration.
However, one long sustained roar later, the game ended with those same Dodgers rushing out the back of their dugout while, behind them, indoor fireworks glowed and Bob Seger sang about old time rock’n roll and some of the Brewers literally danced off the field.
“We’ve been here before,” said Jansen.
Yeah, but rarely in a situation as difficult as this one. The temperature outside the domed Miller Park is supposed to drop below freezing Saturday, but it will be even chillier inside for a Dodgers team trying to move past a rejuvenated Brewers team while erasing its own Game 7 ghost.
Remember the last time they were facing a similar winner-take-all task? Of course you do. Everybody in the great city of Los Angeles does. It was Game 7 of last year’s World Series, when the Dodgers lost 5-1 to the Houston Astros in a game that was over almost before it started.
The particulars of Saturday’s Game 7 make it particularly difficult.
The Dodgers will start Walker Buehler, their ace since August and the star of the Game 163 win against the Colorado Rockies, but he’s also a 24-year-old kid who has struggled in October with a 6.75 ERA in two starts. He’s pitched 1651/3 innings this season, past the Dodgers’ reported ideal pitch limit of 150 innings and far more than he’s ever pitched in a pro season.
The kid sounded ready, saying, “Game 7 to go to a World Series, I don’t know if it gets more high stakes than that. 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.”
And his manager Dave Roberts said he’s ready, saying, “As far as his heartbeat, the weapons, all that stuff, we’re in really good shape with him. He understands the magnitude of this moment, this game, and he’s a good person for us to take the baseball.”
Also available will be Clayton Kershaw for at least an inning, and Jansen for as long as he can hold up, which is all good stuff, but the Brewers can counter that.
First, the Brewers will start their ace, Jhoulys Chacin, who hasn’t allowed a run in two postseason starts including shutting the Dodgers down on three hits in 5 1/3 innings earlier in this series. However, even more important for the Brewers is the three-inning availability of Josh Hader, the hard-throwing reliever who hasn’t allowed a run in six postseason appearances.
“It’s going to be a whole lot of pressure on them,’’ said Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress.
The Dodgers were hoping to get Hader into Friday’s game, but they never mounted enough of a threat late. They scored in the fifth, driving starter Wade Miley from the game with runners on first and second, but against reliever Corey Knebel, Justin Turner flied out and Manny Machado struck out.
Adding to the evening’s chaos were the deafening boos that followed Machado’s every move, the Brewers fans showing their lack of appreciation for the heel turn he took in Los Angeles when he nailed the Brewers’ Jesus Aguilar and Orlando Arcia with cheap shots to their legs.
With his constant smirk and swagger, Machado seemed to revel in his role as the villain. What he didn’t do, however, was succeed in it, and when he left the field for the final time, the fans bid him farewell by chanting, “Manny sucks, Manny sucks.”
Those fans will be waiting for him on Saturday with the same anticipation that the Brewers will have for the Dodgers.
The momentum has shifted. The series is at the breaking point. Like Jansen said, the Dodgers have had to scale many a mountain this season in returning to this point in October.