Welcome to baseball's postseason, where one play, one decision and one swing of the bat can transform goats to heroes, joy into heartbreak and managerial masterpieces into disasters.
The Brewers, buoyed by a stellar start from left-hander Wade Miley and solo homers from Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw, took a three-run lead into the seventh inning of their National League Championship Series with Los Angeles Saturday afternoon at Miller Park.
The Brewers, winners of 12 straight dating to the regular season, had already paid off on the promise of free George Webb hamburgers and were ready to treat a sellout crowd to a pennant-clinching preview.
The Dodgers, however, had other ideas.
Red-headed, slugger Justin Turner, a Yukon Cornelius-lookalike coming off a terrible outing in Game 1, hammered a two-run homer on a changeup from Jeremy Jeffress to give his team the lead and the Dodgers hung on for a 4-3 victory that evened the best-of-seven series at a game apiece.
Game 3 is slated for Monday night at Dodger Stadium, where right-hander Jhoulys Chacin, who turned in his worst outing of the regular season at Chavez Ravine on Aug. 2, will try to wrestle momentum back from Los Angeles.
Walker Bueller starts for the Dodgers, who were on the brink of a gaping hole in the series when the Brewers' bullpen coughed up an eighth-inning lead for just the fourth time in 88 chances this season.
Brewers manager Craig Counsell faced scrutiny for removing Miley after just 5 2/3 innings and staying with Jeffress, whose recent path has been rocky.
"We were in really good shape with the effort that Wade gave us," Counsell said of Miley, who chipped in two hits and scored a run.
"He pitched beautifully, and Corbin (Burnes) finished the sixth, and the seventh was a tough inning with -- they used a pinch hitter, and then (Manny) Machado and (Clay) Bellinger. So knew that was going to be a tough inning."
With lefty Josh Hader sidelined after a season-high 46-pitch three-inning stint in the opener, Counsell had hoped to use Burnes to get between four and seven outs.
It didn't work out.
Burnes replaced Miley with a man on first and two out. Turner hit a rocket that Lorenzo Cain caught in fairly deep center field.
In the seventh, Burnes fell behind Max Muncy in the count, 3-0, before walking the pinch hitter. Machado fouled off a pitch before ripping a single to left. Bellinger pounced on the first pitch and punched it up the middle for a base hit to knock in the visitor's first run.
Jeffress, who allowed two hits in a three-batter span in the opener, gave up a single to Joc Pederson. That loaded the bases, but Jeffress struck out Yasiel Puig, who snapped his bat over his thigh in frustration. In what may have been a turning point in the game, light-hitting catcher Austin Barnes, the Dodgers' No. 8 hitter, worked the count to 3-2 and took a low curveball for a run-scoring walk that made the score 3-2.
With pinch-hitter Yasmani Grandal, who hindered the Dodgers' chances in Game 1 with a horrific defensive effort (2 passed balls and 2 errors, including a catcher's interference) rolled into an inning-ending double play to preserve Milwaukee's lead.
"J.J. (Jeffress) was able to sneak out of it," Counsell said.
In the eighth inning, Taylor reached on what amounted to a swinging bunt to the right side of the infield. Turner followed with a blast into the second deck in left field.
"I was just trying to elevate, get something in the air," Turner said. "I know Muncy is on deck behind me with only righties down there, and he's obviously done some incredible things this year.
"So last thing I want to do is put a ball on the ground.So I was just trying to get something up, and as soon as I hit it, it felt good. 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 waiting for you. That's pretty cool."
The Brewers had a few gasps before losing for the first time since Sept. 22 - three weeks ago - in Pittsburgh.
With a man on base and two out in the bottom of the eighth, pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson hit a two-out drive to the warning track in right field. Puig caught it.
In the ninth, the Brewers had the tying run aboard but Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen retired MVP candidate Christian Yelich on a groundout.
"It can't get any closer after two games, right?" Counsell said. "It's been two hard-fought games, two one-run games, tying run on base in scoring position to finish each game. So they've been about as close as they can be. So we're looking forward to the next chapter."
Before that happens, Brewers fans will rehash Chapter 2 and wonder what would have happened if Counsell had stayed with Miley, who allowed just 2 hits in his 5 2/3 innings.
" I mean, look, you're either too early or too late," Counsell said. "At some point, you gotta make a decision, and I thought he was going through the heart of the lineup for the third time. And I thought we had a fresh Corbin Burnes, who's been wonderful for us this year, and you know, so -- as put some right-handers up there against him for the first -- that one time around. And so Wade pitched great, man. He did his job, certainly, and he did a good five and two-thirds. He did more than we expected for sure."
A victory on Saturday would have given the Brewers a commanding 2-0 lead. Now, it's 1-1 with the Dodgers trying to avoid a return trip to Milwaukee and the (allegedly) ghost-infested Pfister Hotel.
There are plenty of innings, opportunities and decisions left, but the Brewers could be haunted by what happened Saturday afternoon when victory slipped through their grasp.