Chess not checkers.
Craig Counsell sacrificed his knight, Dave Roberts surrendered his pawns, but the Los Angeles Dodgers moved Milwaukee's King into check, defeating the Brewers, 5-2, to take a stranglehold on the NL Championship Series, 3-2, on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
Clayton Kershaw re-wrote his postseason narrative as an ace who cracks under pressure, allowing just one-run on three hits, with nine strikeouts, over seven solid innings.
"I don't really think about the one before," said Kershaw who was roughed up to the tune of five runs in three innings in Game 1. "And after this one I'm not going to think about this one, either."
As one King left the mound, for perhaps the final time in a Dodger uniform, all eyes remained on the chess match with World Series stakes between the two managers that have taken baseball fans on an exhilarating and anxiety-inducing thrill ride throughout this series.
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That match may have reached it's apex in Game 5 on Wednesday when Counsell pulled off the ultimate poker move by bluffing his starting pitcher Wade Miley.
On Monday afternoon, ahead of Game 3 of the series at Dodger Stadium, Counsell announced that his Game 2 starter would take the mound again for Game 5 on short rest.
In reality, Counsell was bluffing, and he went all-in with his chips to see if Roberts would unleash his starting lineup of right-handed hitters against a left-handed starter.
For the most part, that's what Roberts did and so Counsell started Miley for one batter, throwing just five pitches, knowing he had an ace in the hole.
Miley issued a walk to leadoff batter Cody Bellinger and then promptly left the game where he is expected to start Game 6 of the series in Milwaukee on Friday, presumably the plan all along.
"That's what we were going to do all along," said Counsell of starting Miley but immediately going to right-hander Brandon Woodruff in the bullpen. "Wade is going to pitch Game 6."
In the process, Miley joined Johnny Cueto of the Cincinnati Reds in the 2012 NLDS as the only pitchers to start a postseason game and face only one batter.
Milwaukee starting pitchers have thrown just 14 total innings through five games of the NLCS, the lowest total in the history of the League Championship series.
The chess move initially worked as Roberts started right-handed hitters David Freese at first base, Chris Taylor in left field, Kiké Hernandez in right field, and Austin Barnes behind the plate.
"It was very unconventional, but we were prepared for anything," said Roberts. "Our lineup today was different than the other lineup when we faced Miley, so you have to prepare for the unexpected."
By the third inning, Roberts was forced to go to his bench, pinch-hitting Joc Pederson for Freese and rotating his defense all around the diamond.
"They're trying to get matchups, and we're trying to get matchups," added Counsell. "They're a very tough team to get matchups against and we weren't able to give Woody some matchups."
In a reversal of Tuesday night's epic extra-innings thriller, Milwaukee scored first in the top of the third on some puzzling decision making by the Dodgers.
Orlando Arcia hit a one-out single to left field, prompting a rematch between Kershaw and Woodruff, who famously took the three-time Cy Young Award winner deep in Game 1 of the series.
"When he first game in the game, I was just thinking that I have to get Woodruff out," joked Kershaw after the win. "The first inning was strange. There were a lot of challenges. Obviously, I didn't expect Miley to come out after one batter."
Woodruff went to lay down a bunt, but Freese refused to pick up the slow roller along the first base line, opting not to gain an out, instead forcing Woodruff back to the box. Only problem was Kershaw was hesitant to throw anything over the plate after what happened earlier in the series, and he walked Woodruff on five pitches.
One batter later, Lorenzo Cain belted an RBI double off the center field wall and the Brewers took an early 1-0 lead.
The Dodgers would tie the game in the bottom half of the fifth as Chris Taylor single-handedly attempted to jump start the Dodgers offense.
"I was leading off the inning just trying to find a way to get on," said Taylor. "I knew the way Woodruff was throwing, I wanted to get something going and give us a good opportunity."
Taylor led off the inning with an infield single. Advanced to second on a throwing error by Arcia, promptly stole third without a throw, and then scored on a groundball by Barnes that Woodruff kicked into center field.
"That was huge," said Manny Machado of Taylor's fifth inning. "He brought that energy that we needed. Definitely gave us the momentum we needed and we're going to need that if we want to win."
The Dodgers finished 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position, the most hits in that situation than they've had the entire postseason.
"That's something we've talked about the whole series," said Justin Turner of hitting with runners in scoring position. "They obviously have good arms in their bullpen and it's not easy stuff. I thought we did a lot better job from Austin's at-bat on. The quality of at-bats were unbelievable compared to the rest of the series."
Max Muncy put the Dodgers in front when he surprised everyone by going the other way with a slider to beat the shift and score Turner from second.
Turner started the inning with a leadoff single, and moved into scoring position after Manny Machado was hit by a 95MPH fastball from Woodruff.
The hit by pitch was likely unintentional because of the situation, but with the all extra antics and "dirty plays," from Machado throughout the series, it would come as a surprise to absolutely nobody if it wasn't.
Yasiel Puig followed with an insurance run that electrified the crowd, and Puig himself, as the Dodgers took a 3-1 lead.
Puig appeared in his 51st postseason game for the Dodgers, tied with Andre Ethier for the most in franchise history.
"It means a lot," said Puig. "I don't know if Andre played every game, but I haven't played in all 51 games. That makes me really happy to play that much in the postseason."
Turner and pinch-hitter Brian Dozier, both brought home runs in the bottom of the seventh as the Boys in Blue took a commanding 5-1 lead, and a stranglehold on the series.
In the process, Kershaw momentarily exorcised some demons in what could have been his last start for the Dodgers.
Kershaw is expected to opt-out of the final year of his contract after the season, making him an unrestricted free agent. If the Dodgers were to go on and lose the final two games of the series, Kershaw could have pitched his last game in Dodger blue.
If so, he certainly left fans with a lasting memory as his curvevall and slider were working all afternoon long as he didn't allow a single Brewers baserunner past the third inning.
"He just came after guys," said Dodgers' catcher Austin Barnes. "He's the ultimate competitor.
Added Kershaw with a wry smile: "Maybe I threw some more curveballs today than I did in Game 1."
The Brewers hit back-to-back doubles off reliever Ryan Madson in the top of the ninth to cut the lead to 5-2, before Roberts brought in closer Kenley Jansen for his third save of the postseason.
The Dodgers are on the precipice of going to back-to-back World Series, something the team hasn't done since losing to the New York Yankees in consecutive seasons in 1977 and '78.
Overall, the Dodgers are 5-1 when taking a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series with their only loss coming against those same Yankees in the 1952 World Series.
The series shifts to Milwaukee where the Brewers are expected to start left-hander Wade Miley in back-to-back games. Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu will start for Los Angeles as the Dodgers look to close out the series. First pitch is scheduled for 5:39PM PT on Friday night on FS1.
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