The wave of Dodger blue clambered over the Dodger Stadium dugout railing, steps away from beating the runner to the plate. Matt Kemp hugged the third-base line. Justin Turner clutched some sort of stick. Chris Woodward raised his arms in triumph. After five hours and 15 minutes of agonizing baseball, the group was ecstatic to see Game 4 of the National League Championship Series end in any finish. To finish like this felt like a dream.
The final sequence made the ballpark shake. Cody Bellinger stroked a two-out single into right field. Manny Machado hustled to score from second base. The ballpark shook as the Dodgers walked off with a 2-1 victory in 13 innings over the Brewers to even the series at two games apiece.
A few Dodgers sprinted to the plate to greet Machado. The majority tracked Bellinger into left field, where he was back-peddling and giddy, cherishing the first walkoff of his career.
“It’s probably a feeling you won’t forget, seeing your guys chase after you,” Bellinger said. “Honestly, I was surprised that they were throwing to me.”
It was that sort of game, where strategic decisions were questioned from the first inning to the 13th. Brewers manager Craig Counsell permitted reliever Junior Guerra to pitch to Bellinger with the winning run at second base, rather than walking the bases loaded to face pitcher Julio Urias with the Dodgers’ bench empty. The approach backfired, and this series will be decided this weekend at Miller Park.
But first there will be Game 5 on Wednesday afternoon. As Tuesday night bled into Wednesday morning, the Brewers swallowed the bitterness of the loss along with their anger with Machado. Several Milwaukee players ripped Machado for an incident in the 10th inning, when he dragged his left foot and clipped Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar while running through the bag.
The benches cleared and the bullpens emptied. Machado and Aguilar appeared to squash their beef later in the night. But Aguilar’s teammates griped. Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich referred to the incident as a “dirty play by a dirty player.” Machado shrugged off the criticism.
“I was trying to get over him, and hit his foot,” Machado said. “If that’s dirty, that’s dirty, I don’t know. Call it what you want.”
The extracurricular controversy was heaped onto a night already marred by excess. The Dodgers used nine pitchers. The Brewers needed seven. The Dodgers struck out 17 times. The Brewers whiffed 15 times. Both teams ran out of position players. Manager Dave Roberts told Game 6 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu to prepare to enter the game if it continued much longer.
“We were all in,” Roberts said. “And one of the crazier games, where there’s really no margin on either side.”
The game began as an unorthodox pitcher’s duel. After watching Walker Buehler misfire in Monday’s seventh inning, Roberts held the reins tight on Rich Hill. Hill allowed one run in five innings, departing with six strikeouts and 71 pitches on his tab. He exited with the score tied at one, his teammates searching for traction against the Milwaukee bullpen.
The Brewers opened the game with Gio Gonzalez. He had lasted two innings in Game 1. An ankle injury limited his appearance on Tuesday to only one inning. From there, Counsell rode his hard-throwing relievers.
Hill zipped through a nine-pitch first inning. The frame ended with a flyball in Enrique Hernandez’s glove in center field. The crowd burst into applause as he secured the third out, with the fans showing no lingering resentment after Hernandez mentioned their lack of energy in Game 3. The Dodgers hoped to manufacture their own enthusiasm on Tuesday: Joc Pederson waved a rally towel from the dugout as his team played the field.
Pederson was whipping the laundry around as the Dodgers produced a run in the first inning off Gonzalez. Gonzalez has never had a steady relationship with the strike zone. He fell behind often, walking Chris Taylor and clipping David Freese with a 3-0 pitch. Brian Dozier cracked a single into left field to score Taylor and hand Hill the lead. Hernandez flied out to leave two batters aboard.
Gonzalez exited in the second inning. He rolled his left ankle trying to field a comebacker from Yasiel Puig. He attempted to stay in the game, but limped off the field after one pitch to Austin Barnes. Freddy Peralta became the first reliever out of Milwaukee’s bullpen. He was far from the last.
The Brewers broke through against Hill in the fifth. The catalyst was light-hitting shortstop Orlando Arcia, a thorn in the Dodgers’ side with a pair of homers earlier in the series. In the fifth he slapped a single up the middle, setting the table for pinch hitter Domingo Santana.
A 1-2 curveball from Hill swept over the plate. Santana smashed it into the right-center gap, out of Puig’s reach. Arcia jetted home, beating the relay throw from Machado to tie the score.
The lead was gone. But Hill protected the deadlock by striking out outfielder Christian Yelich to end the inning. The result still infuriated him, and so did his impending departure from the game. Hill grabbed a container full of Hi-Chew and bashed it on the bench. As the candies scattered across the dugout, Hill punted the cooler.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how we get there,” Hill said. “It just matters that we win.”
With two out in the bottom of the fifth, Machado tried to call time as Brewers reliever Corbin Burnes prepared to deliver a 1-2 pitch. Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt declined to grant Machado the privilege. Machado stepped out of the batter’s box, only to see Burnes end the inning with a fastball over the plate. Roberts bounded out of his dugout to corral Machado as the player yelled at Wendelstedt.
The Dodgers sputtered through the next two innings. Dozier was drilled by a pitch to start the sixth, but got thrown out trying to steal second. A leadoff single by Barnes in the seventh went nowhere.
An opening emerged from an unlikely source. Counsell chose left-handed relief ace Josh Hader for the eighth inning. He had collected two outs on Game 3, which limited his viability for Tuesday. Hader pitched on consecutive days only five times during the regular season, and Muncy cracked a leadoff single.
Hader did not buckle. He set down the next two batters, overpowering Machado along the way. After Bellinger poked a single, Hader fanned pinch-hitter Matt Kemp with a 98-mph fastball. The strikeout left runners at the corners and the Dodgers empty-handed.
Yet as the game drifted into extra innings, the advantage tilted toward the Dodgers — as long as they won. Because Hader will likely be unavailable in Game 5, leaving Counsell’s bullpen without its primary weapon. Counsell also used reliever Corey Knebel the last two nights.
As Milwaukee prepares for Game 5, they will likely need to lean on reliever Brandon Woodruff behind starter Wade Miley. Counsell could also turn to Jeremy Jeffress, who has been shaky throughout this postseason.
“We’re in a little bit of a tough spot, for sure,” Counsell said. “And I think that’s just the nature of a 13-inning game, and losing your starter in the second inning.”
The Dodgers did not share the frustration. They had come so close to experiencing something similar. Instead they felt relief.