Brewers manager Craig Counsell sat before reporters on a quiet Tuesday afternoon in Dodger Stadium, calmly outlining the fears he must ignore as he deploys his relief pitchers.
Namely, he cannot allow the possibility of extra innings to impair his decisions.
“If there’s an extra-inning game or a crazy game … you’re gonna be out of players,” Counsell said, “and you’re gonna run out of moves to make.”
A few hours later, when the Brewers and the Dodgers faced off in Game 4 of the NLCS, Counsell’s worries were realized, but the bullpen held up. The Tuesday night battle stretched for 13 innings before Cody Bellinger’s walk-off RBI single gave the Dodgers a 2-1 win.
The two teams will face off in Game 5 on Wednesday at 2:05 p.m. with depleted bullpens.
Unlike the Dodgers, whose starter Rich Hill threw five innings, Brewers starter Gio Gonzalez only lasted one.
A 25-pitch first inning dampened Gonzalez’s chances of throwing deep into the game, but that became impossible after the first pitch of the second inning, when Gonzalez rolled his ankle trying to nab Yasiel Puig’s high chopper.
He limped across the mound and threw a few practice pitches as he tried to walk it off. But after one pitch to Austin Barnes, his night was done.
The Brewers’ bullpen took over with at least eight innings to fill.
But the bullpen was up to the task. Game 2 starter Wade Miley had lasted 5 2/3 innings, Game 3 starter Jhoulys Chacin 5 1/3 innings. Only Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress pitched in both of those games, and no reliever had thrown more than one inning since Game 1.
“A day off does wonders for a bullpen guy,” Counsell said before the loss.
Freddy Peralta had not pitched the entire postseason, but stepped onto the mound at Dodger Stadium in his first career postseason appearance. He was told to prepare to pitch each day, and when the time came, he followed the advice of Miley and other experienced pitchers.
“They just told me, ‘You know, this is the same,’” Peralta recalled. “ ‘You just have to … clean your mind and just pitch.’”
Hill did not allow a hit until Jesus Aguilar’s single in the fourth inning, but Peralta kept the Brewers within reach. He held the Dodgers hitless in his three innings, with six strikeouts. The Dodgers had eight runners in scoring position in the first three innings but only scored once, in the first inning.
The Brewers offense finally broke free in the fifth inning, when Orlando Arcia slid across home plate on a double by Domingo Santana. After posting a .576 OPS in the regular season, Arcia has earned a 1.050 OPS in the postseason.
Because of Peralta’s performance, Arcia’s run in the fifth was enough to tie the score.
The Brewers offense stagnated against the Dodgers’ pitching, but Corbin Burnes held the Dodgers hitless through the next two innings, with three strikeouts, to relieve Peralta.
“They come in and they pretty much shut the game down,” Miley, who is slated to start Game 5, said of the bullpen.
Josh Hader’s outing in the eighth inning marked the sixth time this season he has appeared in relief in back-to-back days; he has not done that since a pair of games against the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 29 and 30. Hader threw two-thirds of an inning, striking out both batters he faced, in Game 3.
Hader’s first batter, Max Muncy, singled to center field. Hader retired his next two batters before Cody Bellinger’s single put runners at the corners.
But Hader picked up the final out by striking out Matt Kemp, and the Brewers’ escaped the inning unscathed.
After Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen stifled the Brewers, Knebel did the same to the Dodgers in the ninth.
The Brewers’ bullpen strategy is almost unbreakable, as long as games abide by tradition. But Tuesday’s drawn-out battle was anything but traditional. The Brewers and Dodgers entered extra innings with four relievers apiece.
Junior Guerra led the extra-inning effort, holding the Dodgers scoreless into the 13th inning, while the Dodgers bullpen wore thin. In a contest of bullpen endurance, Guerra’s multiple innings gave the Brewers a chance.
While the Dodgers’ last reliever warmed in the bullpen, Guerra remained on the mound. He said he did not feel fatigued, but he hadn’t pitched more than three innings since Aug. 21 and he did not know how long he would be needed on the mound.
In the bottom of the 13th inning, Guerra started to show cracks. Manny Machado singled then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Bellinger stepped up to bat, and Guerra declined to intentionally walk him. Bellinger crushed Guerra’s 82.3-mph slider for the walk-off win.
As extra innings stretched on, unpredictability revealed the pitfall of the Brewers’ bullpen — at some point, there is no next man up.