The fans jeered the catcher and begged for his backup. The starting pitcher stared in disbelief as a home run disappeared from sight. The hitters spiked bats in the grass and slammed equipment in the dugout. The discontent overflowed at Dodger Stadium as the Milwaukee Brewers collected a 4-0 victory in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Monday to secure a two-games-to-one advantage.
The game featured a sampling of this summer's Dodgers lowlights. Yasmani Grandal failed to smother a wild pitch that let in a run, then heard chants for backup Austin Barnes after committing a passed ball. Walker Buehler lasted until the seventh inning, in which he gave up a two-run home run to slap-hitting shortstop Orlando Arcia. The offense struck out 14 times and was hitless in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position, including a stomach-turning ninth inning.
"As a team, we were a little bit flat tonight, and it showed on the offensive side," utility man Enrique Hernandez said. "It's the playoffs, you've got to want it. Today just wasn't our day. We had no energy. The stadium had no energy. The fans had no energy. Overall, it was a pretty bad game for everybody who calls themselves Dodgers."
Hernandez heaped the blame for the environment on the 25-man roster. He commended the fanbase for "packing the stadium every night and having a lot of passion for the team." He lamented the inability of the Dodgers to invoke that same spirit Monday.
"It was a playoff game, and it didn't feel like a playoff game," Hernandez said. "Not just because of the fans, but because of how we were playing the game."
There will not be much time to mourn. Manager Dave Roberts announced Barnes will start Game 4 on Tuesday. Rich Hill will try to top Buehler's seven innings of four-run baseball. The offense will take another crack at left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez and the relievers who follow him.
On Monday, the hitters pawed at Milwaukee starter Jhoulys Chacin, unable to time his slider across 5 1/3 innings. The Brewers bullpen mowed down the Dodgers until the ninth inning, when combustible closer Jeremy Jeffress gave up a leadoff single to Justin Turner and a double to Manny Machado. From there, the Dodgers tripped over their feet.
As the ballpark stirred, the players stumbled. Cody Bellinger hit a first-pitch popup to Arcia and bounced his bat hard enough for it to land near the mound. After Yasiel Puig walked, Grandal flailed at an 0-and-2 curveball. Brian Dozier ended the game staring at a 95-mph fastball that caught enough plate to convince umpire Gerry Davis that it was a strike.
"When the home runs aren't there, we've got to find a way to score, without hitting a home run," Bellinger said. "We have to have better at-bats."
The Dodgers spoke this refrain throughout their meandering regular season. They demonstrated enough power to outlast Colorado for a sixth consecutive division title. Their brawn overwhelmed Atlanta in a division series. Yet, they find themselves two defeats away from the offseason, tilting at the windmills built by the crafty starters and smoke-throwing relievers of Milwaukee.
The defeat does not guarantee doom. But it does drop a boulder in the team's path back to the World Series. The Dodgers will lean on Hill on Tuesday and then hope Clayton Kershaw can rebound in Game 5 from his Game 1 faceplant. If Milwaukee can secure one more victory at Dodger Stadium, it can return the series to Miller Park with two opportunities to close it out.
Roberts understood the circumstances. He also understood his roster could still swing the series. The plethora of scoring chances Monday amplified his faith.
"I definitely don't think it's the personnel," Roberts said. "It's a matter of when we get into those spots, we have to find a way to be productive."
The fans absorbed a body blow in the first inning. Buehler walked outfielder Christian Yelich by spraying 98-mph fastballs above the zone. Yelich scored when fellow outfielder Ryan Braun hit a belt-high slider into the left-field corner for a double.
From there, the Dodgers commenced squandering chances to tie the score. The spotlight settled on Grandal in the second inning. He had been benched in Game 2 because of a hideous outing in Game 1, with two passed balls, an error and a catcher's interference. The defensive miscues coincided with a cold streak.
Grandal possesses a sizable amount of power and a keen eye. But he is an erratic hitter, prone to streaks and slumps. He entered Monday at a low ebb, with only two hits this postseason. His bat remained frigid when he struck out with two men in scoring position to defuse a rally in the second inning. He chased a 92-mph fastball above the zone without success.
"I was in big situations," Grandal said. "I just couldn't get it done."
Manny Machado short-circuited the fourth inning when he was called for an illegal slide into Arcia, which turned into a double play. A leadoff double by Grandal in the fifth went nowhere. Roberts let Buehler bat with one out. Buehler struck out and Joc Pederson lined out on a slider to let Chacin escape.
Roberts expressed no regrets about not using a pinch-hitter for Buehler. The duo of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw lasted only 71/3 innings in the first two games, and Roberts intended to reduce the exposure of his bullpen.
"And, again," he said, "I still thought we had four chances to push a run across."
Milwaukee squeezed a second run out of Buehler and the Dodgers defense in the sixth inning. With two outs, second baseman Travis Shaw smashed a 97-mph fastball into center field. Bellinger sprinted toward the warning track, stutter-stepping as he tried to read the ball's flight. He mis-timed his leap and smashed into the wall. The ball bounced away from him as Shaw received credit for a triple.
Shaw scored when Buehler spiked a curveball in the dirt. The pitch bounced off Grandal's left forearm as he tried to slide his hips to block it. The wild pitch doubled Milwaukee's lead.
"I know everybody's going to harp on Yaz, but the ball hit the plate," Buehler said. "Those are balls you can't control. That's on me."
The bottom of the inning led to more exasperation with the offense. Turner made it to second base when third baseman Mike Moustakas booted a grounder and threw the baseball into the camera well. The one-out error expedited Chacin's exit. Manager Craig Counsell inserted Corey Knebel to tamp down the flames. Machado smashed a grounder right at Moustakas for one out. Bellinger waved at a 97-mph fastball in vain.
Roberts tried to get Buehler through the bottom of Milwaukee's batting order in the seventh. The plan was foiled when catcher Erik Kratz doubled down the left-field line. Two pitches later, Arcia reached across the plate to connect with a 97-mph fastball. The ball soared over the fence in right.
"Obviously, we didn't live up to what we wanted to do in this game," Buehler said. "But that's why you play seven games."
The series may require all seven. The Dodgers will get two more games at home. They can only hope the environment improves from Monday.
"We sucked," Hernandez said. "That's why we lost."