Justin Turner plays postseason hero in Game 2 of NLCS
MILWAUKEE – A dizzying two games of moves and counter moves in this National League Championship Series produced line shifts more akin to hockey games, and pitchers facing quicker hooks than any of Joe Frazier’s opponents ever dodged in the ring.
As Game 2 dragged to a close, the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers seemed to be sending a silent message that has served as an undercurrent to their industry for the past year: Everyone’s dispensable.
Yet, this National League Championship Series will head back to L.A. tied at 1-1 because, for all their exhaustive maneuvering, the Dodgers do recognize that some assets are truly essential.
Like Justin Turner.
“He’s the glue for our club,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts admitted of his ginger-bearded, All-Star third baseman. “If you’re talking about the grind, the tough conversations, the identity of our ball club, he’s probably the face. He personifies everything that I believe in as a baseball player.”
Saturday, Turner struck the decisive blow for the Dodgers, a go-ahead, two-run home run off Jeremy Jeffress that capped a Dodger uprising some 10 innings in the making and produced a 4-3 Game 2 victory at Miller Park.
It had been 10 innings since All-Star reliever Josh Hader departed Game 1 with a 6-1 lead after throwing three scoreless innings.
From that point on, the Dodgers outscored the Brewers 8-3. They have one win to show for it, thanks to Turner’s blast.
Yet Turner’s home run – which inspired a half-dozen teammates to spill onto the infield dirt in an impromptu dance party – was the byproduct of innings and innings of the Dodgers grinding down a Brewers squad intent on neutralizing their platoon system.
The result: Everyone plays – but not too much.
Through two games, the Dodgers have used 23 of their 25 players, with only Game 3 and 4 starters Walker Buehler and Rich Hill yet to jump in the fray. The Brewers have utilized 22, though their Game 3 starter, Jhoulys Chacin, was available this weekend, manager Craig Counsell said.
It was Counsell who hooked his Game 2 starter, Wade Miley, after just 74 pitches, even though Miley was working on a shutout, had given up just two hard-hit balls and only one hit through 5 2/3 innings.
He was pulled in the fifth inning of a shutout in Game 3 of the NL Division Series, and so it was little surprise Miley would not be allowed to face Turner and Co. a third time.
“He did more than we expected, for sure,” Counsell admitted.
Exit Miley, enter right-hander Corbin Burnes, and you could almost hear the factory whistle blow in the Dodgers dugout.
In came the lefty power hitters: Max Muncy, Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger, 20-home run guys confined to the bench for the start of two games because Counsell threw lefties Miley and Gio Gonzalez at the Dodgers.
Roberts took the bait, and the Dodger offense struggled, producing only Manny Machado’s solo home run over innings one through six in both games.
But with Hader unavailable for Game 2, the Dodgers got to eat.
Muncy’s leadoff walk in the seventh preceded singles from Machado, Bellinger and Pederson; a bases-loaded walk from Austin Barnes produced the inning’s second run.
It was 3-2 and while the inning ended with Yasmani Grandal’s deflating bases-loaded double-play ball, the Dodgers showed the appropriate urgency when the Brewers – by far the most unique opponent they’ve faced in six postseason runs – let them up for air.
“It’s very different – their bullpen is deep and they can throw multiple innings,” says Pederson. “It throws a wrench in it.
“But it still comes down to swinging at strikes, putting together quality at-bats, and that’s what we did over the course of nine innings.”
None bigger than Turner’s.
He came into Game 2 off one of the worst games of his career: Four strikeouts – including with the tying run on third to end the game – and an error. He and Machado are the only Dodgers who play every day, so he knew a chance at redemption would come.
It arrived in the eighth inning, a runner on, and fading reliever Jeremy Jeffress starting him off with a pair of balls out of the strike zone before Turner ambushed a 2-0 pitch.
“I was just trying to elevate,” he said of the at-bat that followed Chris Taylor’s infield single, “get something in the air. Last thing I want to do is put a ball on the ground.
“I knew it was a homer, and it’s cool to run around the bases and see all your teammates going crazy, jumping up and down and waiting for you.”
New game. New series.
It was Turner who hit a walk-off three-run homer against the Chicago Cubs in Game 2 of the 2017 NLCS, propelling the Dodgers to their first World Series appearance since 1988.
He now has seven postseason homers – tied for third in franchise history behind Steve Garvey and Duke Snider – and 43 postseason hits. His .438 on-base percentage entering Game 2 was fourth-highest in postseason history, trailing Lou Gehrig (.483), Babe Ruth (.470) and Gene Woodling (.442).
After his latest star turn, the Dodgers were careful to spread around the credit, a wise move on a team in which seven players hit at least 20 home runs.
Still, there’s little doubting who they want up with the money on the line.
“He’s done it postseason after postseason,” Barnes said of Turner. “I think we feel really comfortable with all our top-of-the-lineup guys – they’re all swinging it really well.
“But J.T. is definitely up at the top of that. The way he controls ABs is kind of next-level stuff.”
The three games at Dodger Stadium should be to the home team’s liking. The Dodgers’ cadre of lefty sluggers will be liberated in Game 3 because the Brewers will start right-hander Jhoulys Chacin. Game 4 is anybody’s guess.
And Hader can’t pitch in every game – at least not for three innings at a time.
The Dodgers left Milwaukee Saturday night knowing they may not have to return. It was quite a reversal from 24 hours before, both for the squad at large and the player they truly can’t go without.
“It takes a special athlete to have a night like he had last night,” says Roberts, “and to show up the next day in a big spot and want to have the bat in your hand.
“And Justin is that guy, and those are hard to come by.”