Forget nervous stomachs.
What the Dodgers really need is for Manny Machado to tame the butterflies in his head.
There was always going to be a price to pay for his bush-league behavior in Los Angeles in this National League Championship Series—kicking Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar as he crossed first base in Game 4 and explaining away the periodic dog in him with his infamous hustling is “not my cup of tea” remarks—and the first check came due hard in Friday night’s 7-2 Game 6 loss to the Brewers.
The Brewers’ crowd booed Machado as if he were in town to introduce Prohibition.
Machado responded with a dry night at the plate, meekly going 0-for-4 and stranding three.
“It was a tough loss for us today,” he said when asked about the crowd, which was the polite way of checking on the ringing in his ears. “We’ve got to come back and play better baseball tomorrow night.”
OK, well, um, sure.
The way the Brewers ambushed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu for four runs in the first inning, another in the second, four doubles in the first two innings and then scored their sixth run when a wild pitch slipped past Yasmani Grandal, who is to catching in this NLCS what a single sandbag is to a raging flood…of course the Dodgers must play better Saturday night if they are to return to the World Series.
That includes their marquee trade deadline addition, who appeared determined to hit the ball farther as the boos got louder.
“No,” Machado protested. “My focus was on the game, trying to go pitch-by-pitch and drive in runs.”
The sellout Miller Park crowd of 43,619 booed early and booed loudly. They hit decibels that made you hope parents were responsible enough to bring earplugs for infants. It was ear-splitting, it was sustained and it sure appeared to work.
Within that 0-for-4, Machado fanned twice, never got the ball out of the infield and appeared in need of a good set of noise-canceling headphones.
His name was buried in boos during pregame introductions. An avalanche of boos greeted him again as he walked to the plate in the first inning, and the deafening noise remained throughout the at-bat, hitting a crescendo when he swung through strike three, a 92 mph heater from Milwaukee starter Wade Miley.
He popped to short in the third and whiffed again in the fifth. With each swing-and-miss, the crowd went bonkers.
But the topper came in his final at-bat in the eighth with the Dodgers trailing 6-2.
He ran hard all the way down the line—that shouldn’t be worth noting in a major league game, but it is now with the self-proclaimed anti-Johnny Hustle—but was thrown out.
As he went back across the infield to the Dodgers’ third base dugout, he was booed vociferously every step of the way.
After disappearing into the dugout, he re-emerged to join his teammates on the top step and couldn’t resist an exaggerated wave with his right arm as if to challenge the fans.
By then, a full-throated “Manny sucks! Manny sucks! Manny sucks!” chant was in full force.
When I asked him about the motion afterward—Was it a wave or brushoff of the fans? Was he motioning to a teammate? Did I mis-see something altogether?—Machado gave a convoluted answer.
“I’ve gotta play baseball,” he said. “You come back to the dugout and try to root on your teammates. Belly [Cody Bellinger] was having a good at-bat. I always go back to the top step to root on my teammates.
“A lot of things happened in the game. I can’t remember.”
Nobody in the library-quiet Dodgers clubhouse could help but remember most of the rest of the evening. Milwaukee’s faithful came to see that their winter didn’t come early. By evening’s end, summer was assured to last one more day, even though it was a chilly 57 degrees with high winds outside.
A cloudy, dreary day turned into a red-hot evening, and when it came time for the Milwaukee tradition following “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, with the Brewers leading 5-2, everyone sang “Roll Out the Barrel” with gusto…and the line “roll out the barrel, we’ve got the blues on the run” seemed especially apt. The Dodger blues.
“This is what you want to play for, this is the fun time,” Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said of Game 7. “We’ve got to go play Dodger baseball.”
Across the room, someone asked Chris Taylor about the way the Dodgers have responded all season, from trailing Arizona by nine games in the division a month into the season to chasing down Colorado in September when the Rockies briefly seized first place.
“We have to keep that same mindset,” Taylor said. “Tomorrow is a new day. We have to come out and execute and try to win a game.”
Rookie phenom Walker Buehler will start, and you can be sure that ace Clayton Kershaw, who threw a 98-pitch gem on Wednesday, will be available out of the bullpen.
On the flip side, another Friday night victory for Milwaukee was this: The Crew beat the Dodgers so badly that they didn’t even have to use relief ace Josh Hader. So the filthy left-hander will be available in Game 7 for multiple innings. Early? Late? Who knows, the way Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell maneuvers things.
“That’s their best reliever, and obviously you would have liked to have kept the game close enough to have them use him tonight,” Roberts said. “They got away tonight because of run differential, they didn’t have to use him.”
Hader hasn’t pitched since Game 4 and now has a full three days’ rest.
In fact, when asked how many innings Hader can go in Game 7, Counsell quipped, “Twelve.”
When the laughter subsided, the manager clarified: “I’m just kidding.”
Maybe, maybe not. Who knows? For one night, it was party time in Milwaukee. As Game 6 played out and led toward Game 7, downtown the NBA’s Bucks were hosting the Indiana Pacers in the first game at the brand-new, state-of-the-art, $524 million Fiserv Forum.
The Brewers went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position after going 5-for-35 with RISP combined over the first five games of this NLCS. The Dodgers went 0-for-3 in those situations, making them 6-for-36 over the past four games.
“I think he had to know what was going to be coming,” third baseman Justin Turner said of Machado. “I don’t think it affected him.”
It sure looked like it did. But then, hey, who knows, maybe Turner was distracted, too. The crowd reserved a little time for him as well. Going into the bottom of the fourth, the giant center field scoreboard focused on a bearded man in the stands hoisting a sign that read: “Justin Turner Can’t Grow a Beard Like Me.”
The crowd roared.
Call it a prelude to Saturday night, and Game 7, as the Brewers try to snag what would be only the second World Series appearance in franchise history. Roll out the barrel, indeed.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.