MILWAUKEE - Ryan Braun slid across home plate and raised his arms in sheer joy.
A big lead, a bruising bullpen and a boisterous crowd have the Milwaukee Brewers all set up for Game 7.
Jesus Aguilar sparked Milwaukee’s slumping lineup with three RBIs on a pair of two-out hits, and the Brewers beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 7-2 on Friday night to even the NL Championship Series at three games each.
“I don’t think about me. The most important thing, at the end of the day, is win games,” said Aguilar, who had driven in just two runs in the playoffs. “Tomorrow it can be somebody else. Tonight, it was me.”
Game 7 is Saturday night in front of the same frenzied crowd that booed Manny Machado vociferously after he tangled with Aguilar while the series was in Los Angeles. Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler faces journeyman Jhoulys Chacin, with well-rested relief ace Josh Hader looming in the bullpen for Milwaukee after a surprise day off.
It’s the first Game 7 for the Brewers since losing to St. Louis in 1982 in their only World Series appearance. The Dodgers dropped Game 7 of the World Series last year against Houston.
“Got to get them tomorrow. We got one more game,” Machado said. “They played good baseball today. So, we just got to play a better one tomorrow.”
Backed by raucous fans waving yellow towels that read “ONE TOUGH CREW,” Milwaukee rebounded from consecutive losses at Dodger Stadium with the same formula it used to win the NL Central during a breakout season.
Some timely hitting by Aguilar and company produced an early lead, and Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress led the way in another shutdown performance by Milwaukee’s tough bullpen.
“Anybody, anywhere, anytime,” Knebel said. “We’re ready to go.”
Los Angeles was looking for its second straight NL pennant and some time to prepare for the mighty Boston Red Sox in the World Series. But losing pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin was tagged for four runs in the first inning, two on a double by Aguilar that sent Braun sliding home.
After Wade Miley pitched into the fifth inning in his second straight start — he faced only one batter in Game 5 — Knebel, Jeffress and Corbin Burnes closed it out with hitless relief. Knebel got the win and Burnes retired the Dodgers in order in the ninth.
Manager Craig Counsell considered bringing in Hader, especially in the eighth, but Aguilar scored on Dodgers reliever Kenta Maeda’s wild pitch in the seventh and singled in Lorenzo Cain in the eighth.
The extra room helped persuade Counsell to give Hader another day of rest. The rocket-armed reliever hasn’t pitched since Tuesday in Game 4.
Maeda allowed a pair of runs and two hits in one inning.
“I was trying to locate the pitch to where it’s hard for the batter to hit but it bounced once,” Maeda said of the wild pitch. “It’s such a waste. I need to get over that.”