If there are moral victories in baseball, the Dodgers notched one Friday night in the eighth inning of an 8-5 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, a 3-hour, 54-minute marathon between last year’s National League Championship Series combatants that featured five homers and four lead changes before the sixth inning.
The Dodgers, known for their high-quality at-bats, made Brewers relief ace Josh Hader throw 32 pitches in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with two outs before the left-hander with the nasty 95-mph fastball and knee-buckling slider struck out Justin Turner to preserve a 7-5 Milwaukee lead.
Though the Dodgers fell short of a score-tying rally, they taxed one of the game’s best relievers enough to prevent his usage for the game Saturday night and, possibly, for Sunday’s series finale as well. Hader threw six more pitches to get the first out of the ninth and was replaced by Alex Wilson.
“We were a hit away from tying the game, and we stressed him for four outs, we got that pitch count way up,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Hader. “He’s arguably the best reliever in the game, so what we did to not let him finish that game was certainly a positive for us.”
David Freese opened the eighth inning with a pinch-hit double to left off Hader, who in his five previous appearances this season had given up one hit and no runs and struck out 13 of 25 batters in 7 1/3 innings of work.
Austin Barnes popped out to first base, but Chris Taylor capped a seven-pitch at-bat by stroking a fastball into center field for a single that advanced Freese to third.
Roberts sent the left-handed-hitting Max Muncy to bat for the left-handed Joc Pederson, who hit a two-run homer off Milwaukee right-hander Corbin Burnes in the fourth inning but is not as effective against left-handers.
Muncy fouled off three consecutive pitches before taking a ball. Hader then knocked Muncy down with an up-and-in, 96-mph fastball and missed up in the zone with another fastball to run the count full. Muncy fouled off another pitch before striking out on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, another fastball.
Corey Seager, another left-handed hitter, capped a seven-pitch at-bat by walking on a full-count fastball, loading the bases.
Hader mixed two sliders into a five-pitch at-bat against the right-handed-hitting Turner, including an 80-mph bender for strike three with Cody Bellinger, who hit his NL-leading eighth homer in the third inning, on deck.
“We put up great at-bats against him — we did a great job battling a tough pitcher,” Bellinger said. “He’s got probably the best fastball in the game, he throws it 98% of the time and still doesn’t get contact. We did a great job of getting to him and almost scored some runs there.”
The Brewers tacked on an insurance run in the ninth inning off Kenley Jansen, their first run in 23 games against the Dodgers closer, when Christian Yelich singled, took second on a balk, stole third and scored on Jesus Aguilar’s sacrifice fly.
For the game, Yelich, the 2018 NL most valuable player and former Westlake Village Westlake High standout, had two hits and scored three runs, and Aguilar also had an RBI double in the seventh.
Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal, in his first game against his former team, had an RBI single in the first inning, a two-run homer on a changeup that Julio Urias left up in the fifth and a single in the seventh. Hernan Perez crushed a hanging curve from Urias for a two-run homer to left-center field in the fourth.
“These guys, they’re relentless,” Roberts said of the Brewers. “They don’t quit, they fight, they put at-bats together a lot like we do, and they have the strength in the bullpen with Hader. They get big hits. They have guys who kind of win pitches.”
The Dodgers hit three home runs Friday night, and they lead the NL with 32 homers. They were able to outslug most of their pitching deficiencies during an 8-2 start, but the bats cooled a bit in St. Louis this last week and that’s led to a five-game losing streak.
“You look at tonight, and the difference was a hanging breaking ball that Perez hits for a home run and Grandal, we left a changeup up and it doesn’t get there, and it’s another two-run homer,” Roberts said. “When we made a mistake, they took advantage of it. We have to get ahead of hitters, across the board, starters and relievers.