MILWAUKEE — Dodger Depth is a cliche by now. Manager Dave Roberts almost apologizes for using it.
But catchphrases don’t become shopworn unless they’re true.
On Saturday, the Dodgers went to the bottom of the manifest.
Austin Barnes had not started a game since Sept. 23. In 2017 he started 14 of the 15 postseason games.
He was an apt symbol for the difference between the smooth cruise of last season and the rutted road of this one, between a .289 average with an .895 OPS then, and a .205 and a .619 now. He also went from 38 RBI to 14.
Would the season last long enough for Barnes to chime in? The regular season wouldn’t. The postseason would. Thanks to the behind-the-plate shakes that Yasmani Grandal suffered Friday night, Barnes got his chance against Wade Miley, the Milwaukee left-hander.
Roberts vaguely mentioned some “history” Barnes had with Miley, but actually that consisted of 1-for-4. And Barnes was as ineffectual as all the Dodgers in the five-and-two thirds innings that Miley was allowed to pitch.
But in the seventh inning, Barnes came up with bases loaded, one out, one run in and the Dodgers trailing, 3-1. Without a win, L.A. would need to win four of five to escape the National League Championship Series.
So when Barnes looked out at Jeremy Jeffress, the normal Milwaukee closer, this was real life. There were no pinch-hitters to rescue, no place to put Barnes.
Barnes worked Jeffress to 3-and-1 and took a strike. The 3-and-2 pitch was a low 80s curve ball, the same one Jeffress had used to strike out Yasiel Puig. Fearlessness was required to take it. To strike out looking would be the worst kind of defeat, short of a double play.
Instead Barnes let it settle down and away, for ball four. He trotted to first, Manny Machado trotted home, and it was 3-2.
Grandal then pinch-hit into a double play. But that was a mere postponement. Turner, just when you were wondering if it was time for him to emerge, smoked a 2-run homer off Jeffress in the eighth. He held the bat high, like a torch, as the ball descended.
“To see how he controls at bats, that’s next-level stuff,” Barnes said.
“He’s probably the face of it,” Roberts said, “the glue of our team.”
As in Game 1, the Dodgers had rebelled against the Milwaukee bullpen. They are 12-for-25 against it, and counting an 0-for-13 start. But stats lie hollow without results. Actually they just lie. Who knows what happens, or doesn’t, if Barnes lets the bases stay loaded?
“It popped out of his hand a little bit different,” Barnes said, referring to ball four. “It started one way and went the other. I didn’t think any of the pitches were that close, to be honest.”
He also had to call pitches for eight pitchers.
“That can be exhausting,” he said. “I’m going to sleep well on the plane. You have to have a plan for each guy, take into consideration what each guy has.
“I haven’t had the year I did last year. I’ve just had to deal with it and stay ready.”
But the Dodgers benefited from Milwaukee’s case of bullpenitis (cq), which becomes a national outbreak every October.
Miley, who had beaten the Dodgers 1-0 in July, gave up a single to the second hitter he faced (Turner) and another to the 19th (Chris Taylor). The other Dodgers were 0-for-17 with no walks, and none got to second base. They were jerking Miley’s changeups harmlessly or taking surprise fastballs down the middle. It was the starkest bit of baseball hypnotism since “The Naked Gun.”
But Miley left in a two-out situation after his 74th pitch. The Brewers went to righthand power pitchers. And the game reverted to Dodger speed.
Perhaps this game was lost when lefty Josh Hader worked three innings on Friday instead of two. Perhaps, with the off days, the Brewers’ pen will still be mightier. But the Dodgers relievers won the weekend.
They have given up two runs in nine and two-thirds innings, both solo home runs.
“The Milwaukee guys have power arms,” Barnes said. “But the more you see them, the better idea you get. We saw that last year in the World Series with (Brandon) Morrow and our guys.”
“I’m speaking for them,” Roberts said of his relievers. “I know that they’re taking this personal. There’s not a lot said about them. But when you look across the diamond and you see people doing the same thing you’re doing and they’re getting more notoriety or whatever, people have pride.”
The Dodgers go to Walker Buehler, their best arm, on Monday. By now the Brewers know they have to beat him and 24 others.
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