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Dodgers’ Austin Barnes delivers big by tempering expectations in win over Brewers

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes hits a run-scoring single during the fifth inning.
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes hits a run-scoring single during the fifth inning of a 3-0 playoff win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Austin Barnes will never be confused with Johnny Bench or Mike Piazza. The Dodgers catcher is a career .230 hitter with a .700 on-base-plus-slugging percentage who has never hit more than eight homers or driven in more than 38 runs in any of his six big league seasons.

But all that time he spends behind the plate may help Barnes gain a better grasp of the strike zone when he’s at the plate, his discipline playing a key role in the Dodgers’ 3-0 National League wild card series-clinching win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night.

Barnes used his keen eye to extend a critical fifth-inning at-bat that ended with his run-scoring single to center field, a hit that snapped a scoreless tie and helped fuel a three-run rally against Brewers right-hander Brandon Woodruff, who had struck out eight in the first four innings.

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After Milwaukee third baseman Luis Urias failed to complete a potential inning-ending 5-3 double play when he threw low to first base on AJ Pollock’s grounder, Barnes stepped to the plate with two on and two out in the fifth.

Woodruff got ahead of Barnes with a 1-and-2 count. Barnes took the next pitch, a 96-mph fastball that was a ball’s width off the outside corner, for a ball, a pitch Woodruff clearly thought was a strike.

Two pitches later, Barnes grounded an 84-mph curve up the middle for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead. Mookie Betts followed with a two-run double to left for a 3-0 lead, which was more than enough support for dominating starter Clayton Kershaw, who allowed three hits and struck out 13 in eight scoreless innings.

“Austin throughout his career has had a really good ability to look over a baseball and control the strike zone, and that’s exactly what he did in that at-bat,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He took a borderline call, a fastball away, got a pitch middle-middle and stayed through it. I’m really happy for Austin.”

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Highlights from the Dodgers’ 3-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 2 on Thursday.

Woodruff was pulled after Betts’ hit, and as he walked off the mound, he barked at plate umpire Quinn Wolcott about the 1-2 pitch to Barnes. Woodruff was ejected and responded by giving Wolcott a hook with his right arm, as if the umpire should be tossed as well.

“I went back and watched it on my phone, and it was just a hair off,” Woodruff said of the 1-2 pitch to Barnes. “But in the heat of the moment, in my eye, I thought it was a strike. … I didn’t get the call. I needed to move on and make a good pitch and wasn’t able to do that.”

Barnes, 30, said a younger version of himself may have squeezed the bat a little too tight in that situation, maybe even tried to hit a three-run homer instead of a single. But experience and knowing his place in the order—he batted ninth — helped him temper his emotions and expectations.

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Dodgers' AJ Pollock welcomes Austin Barnes home after both scored in the fifth inning.
Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock and Austin Barnes celebrate after scoring on a double by Mookie Betts in the fifth inning against the Brewers on Thursday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

“I’m not trying to drive the ball so much this time, [I’m] taking what they give me,” Barnes said. “At the bottom of the lineup, with our lineup, you’re trying to get on base for Mookie, [Corey] Seager and all those guys following them.

“[Woodruff] was throwing the ball hard. You get too big off a guy like that, he’s going to miss your barrel. He threw it away and I was lucky enough to find a hole.”

Barnes also singled to right in the third, the first hit off Woodruff. He spent the rest of his night teaming with Kershaw on a playoff gem, a pairing that has evolved to the point where Barnes, who lost the starting job to Will Smith, is now Kershaw’s personal catcher.

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“Barnesy was awesome,” Kershaw said. “He does a great job. He prepares really well. I think I shook him off twice tonight, maybe three times, and usually when I shake him off, they end up getting a hit, but he does a great job. He opened up the gates for us a little bit tonight with that knock. I can’t say enough about him.”

The Dodgers, behind a stellar performance by Clayton Kershaw, beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-0 to sweep the wild-card series and advance to the NLDS.

Kershaw threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of 27 batters. He got swings and misses on 20 of his 45 sliders, a pitch that broke sharply with depth and that he threw to the arm side and glove side. Ten of his whiffs came on sliders; three came on his looping curve. Only two Brewers reached second base against him.

“The slider was really nice, the curveball was keeping guys off balance, and he was putting the fastball where he wanted,” Barnes said. “It was just a Kershaw outing. It was awesome.

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“It’s hard to explain back there. It’s almost like he’s on a little bit of cruise control. Obviously, it’s not that easy, but when it’s clicking, it’s clicking. He was clicking tonight for sure.”


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