Hyun-Jin Ryu didn’t have it Friday.
So as the Milwaukee Brewers were ransacking Ryu in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series and the crowd at Miller Park was celebrating each of their runs with deafening roars, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was forced to make his most critical call of the night earlier than anticipated.
Rather than to manage to win that night, Roberts navigated the Dodgers to ensure they wouldn’t lose Game 7 before it started.
The Dodgers didn’t have anyone warming up in their bullpen after Ryu gave up a two-run double to Jesus Aguilar in the first inning. They didn’t have anyone up after Mike Moustakas followed with a run-scoring double. And they still didn’t have anyone up after Erik Kratz singled in the last of the Brewers’ four runs in the first inning.
Ryu was charged with a total of five runs over three innings in the eventual 7-2 defeat to the Brewers, which leveled the NLCS at three games apiece.
The decision to stay with Ryu for as long as Roberts did preserved his bullpen for the showdown on Saturday. The downside was that, well, the Dodgers essentially conceded a game after only an inning or two. This wasn’t a game in mid-June. This was the sixth game of the NLCS.
The Brewers basically punted Game 5 when they resorted to a bullpen game. The Dodgers allowed that move to go unpunished by giving the victory right back to them.
“There’s the thought of trying to go to your ’pen in the first inning or the second inning, but there’s a significant cost for a potential Game 7,” Roberts said. “So I just felt we needed to get some innings out of Hyun-Jin to keep our highest-leverage guys available for a potential Game 7.”
The results will ultimately serve as judge and jury. Advance to World Series, and nothing Roberts did in Game 6 will be questioned.
If anything, he will be applauded for his foresight and discipline. Lose on Saturday, however, and his inaction early in the contest could be remembered as one of the reasons the Dodgers failed to grasp something that looked as if it was rightfully theirs.
That shouldn’t change the reality that Ryu was most responsible for the Game 6 loss.
Ryu didn’t pitch well in his team’s Game 2 victory, lasting only 4 1/3 innings. On this night, he didn’t even give his team a chance.
Ryu wasn’t just hit. He was hit hard.
With two outs in the first inning, Aguilar doubled into the right-field corner. Moustakas did the same.
By the time Ryu struck out pitcher Wade Miley to complete the inning, the Brewers had transformed a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 advantage. The Brewers collected five hits and a walk in the inning. Ryu threw 31 pitches.
The Dodgers had some pitchers who could have provided them with length. Alex Wood and Caleb Ferguson were in the bullpen. So was Rich Hill, the Game 4 starter. All three ended up appearing later in the game.
But Roberts didn’t want to make the move at such an early stage, as doing so probably would have forced him at some point to exhaust high-leverage specialists such as Kenley Jansen, Pedro Baez and Ryan Madson.
And Ryu gave up back-to-back doubles to Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun that extended the Dodgers’ deficit to 5-1.
“It’s difficult to find rhythm giving up back-to-back hits,” Ryu said. “I’m sorry for my teammates. My job as a starter is to keep games close. I didn’t do that today.”
Roberts acknowledged that if this had been Game 7, he would have removed Ryu earlier.
“You’re down three runs after the first inning and you ultimately score two runs anyway,” Roberts said. “To look back and have used all your guys and still score only two runs, for me, it would have been the decision regardless.”
Of course, that assumes the game would have played out how it did regardless. And maybe it would have.
But the Dodgers appeared to have a better approach against Miley than they did in Game 2, when the left-hander blanked them over 5 2/3 innings. David Freese led off the game with a home run and the others who batted in the first inning refrained from chasing pitches out of the strike zone. The Dodgers didn’t score in the second inning, but had runners on the corners when Freese popped up for the third out.
The fifth run the Brewers scored in the bottom of the inning appeared to be a backbreaker, as Miley retired the side in order in the third and fourth innings.
And while Jansen, Baez and Madson will have fresh arms Saturday because they didn’t have to pitch in Game 6, the lopsided score also allowed the Brewers to better prepare themselves for Game 7.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell was spared from having to call on left-hander Josh Hader.
Hader, an All-Star, pitched three scoreless innings in Game 1. He will give the Brewers the ability to shorten Game 7.
How Roberts managed wasn’t a surprise. This was the kind of multi-variable calculus that has become the trademark of the Dodgers.