With Wade Miley as bait, Craig Counsell attempted to hustle the Dodgers

Tim BrownMLB columnist

LOS ANGELES – Of all the ways to try to do this, to win baseball games in the October cauldron, the lefty at the end of the dancing fish hook certainly was one of them.

A rare one. Maybe nothing quite like it ever, actually, to run the street con out there in broad daylight, before tens of thousands of potential witnesses. Wasn’t even their lucky corner. But, yes, it was one of the ways.

Long before Wednesday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the Milwaukee Brewers announced their starting pitcher to be Wade Miley. In fact, asked Monday afternoon to identify his Game 4 starter, Brewers manager Craig Counsell declined to say, but did offer that his Game 5 starter would be Miley, the veteran left-hander, on short rest. In hindsight, it seemed an unusual moment of forthrightness when it came to his pitching plans. In hindsight, that’s called the hustle.

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Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Wade Miley made five pitches in NLCS Game 5 before manager Craig Counsell went to his bullpen. (AP)
Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Wade Miley made five pitches in NLCS Game 5 before manager Craig Counsell went to his bullpen. (AP)

Miley was the bait. The pig in a poke. The queen of hearts that’s flashed and palmed.

The series was tied Wednesday at 2-2. The Los Angeles Dodgers set their interchangeable lineup on the card table, large with the men they liked against Miley, fresh as a new $20.

Miley threw five pitches in what amounted to the most heavily attended side session in baseball history. (He’ll start Game 6 on Friday.) Healthy, he handed back the baseball to Counsell, and walked from the mound, many of his teammates not sure what they were seeing. From the bullpen came right-hander Brandon Woodruff, notified of this duty, he said, Wednesday morning, to oppose the Dodgers’ first right-handed batter. Miley was shown. Miley was palmed.

He knew “a couple days ago,” Miley said. Or maybe it was a few days, he said. “I didn’t tell many people,” he said. “Kept it a pretty good secret.” And then again, he said, “It wasn’t set in stone, but … ”

Counsell said, “Yeah, that’s what we were going to do all along. Wade is going to pitch Game 6. If we went down 3-1, we were considering having Wade pitch this game. But other than that, this is what we decided we were going to do.”

The cloaked starter – Woodruff – pitched authoritatively for most of the next six innings. The Dodgers won the game, 5-2. Maybe Miley on short rest, and going as long as he could, followed by Woodruff, would have changed the outcome. Maybe not. But Woodruff followed by a weary bullpen left it at 5-2.

Asked about the subterfuge, Counsell smiled and said, “I don’t know what ‘subterfuge’ means.

“Look, they’re trying to get matchups. We’re trying to get matchups. They’re a very tough team to get matchups against.”

So bullpen games spring from nowhere, which is the game too perhaps, and the Brewers do what they have to do to reach the World Series, and they’ve played well enough to and pitched well enough to do that too, outside of this sudden bent toward hitting .219 over five games.

Thing is, while the Brewers were stirring up the fog machine and pulling Woodruffs out of hats, the Dodgers were doing what they had to do to reach the World Series, and that was getting the ball to Clayton Kershaw. Across a Wednesday afternoon that began in sunshine and ended in shadows – more shadows, turned out – it became clearer that what the Brewers had attempted was wholly virtuous. They do not possess a Kershaw, not this Kershaw, not the man who threw seven innings of three-hit baseball, who watched in between as his teammates found their two-strike consciences and delivered clutch at-bats and composed hits, who finished the seventh inning and had more in him.

“You could see the same look that you always see,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “There’s a determination and when you get a champion like him that gets hit around a little bit, he’s going to respond. And that’s what he did today.”

The Brewers were true to who they are. In some ways, they cannot merely stand and trade punches with the Dodgers. The starting rotation was reputed to be one of those ways. When 11 2/3 innings are required of a bullpen the very night before, fortuitous matchups – right vs. right, left vs. left, from their bullpen’s perspective – is perhaps a luxury and another of those ways. The Dodgers, frankly and mildly suspicious of the Brewers’ plan to start Miley on three days’ rest, were therefore slow to commit all of their right-handed bats. They had their eye on the queen of hearts, their hand on their wallet.

In the end, the game doesn’t really change. Sometimes it’s just overthought. The Brewers identified the mark who may or may not have been a mark, and Wade Miley smiled and went along, and Brandon Woodruff reported for his shift, and that’s where it would play.

“Didn’t think much of it,” Woodruff said. “All I knew was my job was to go in there and make pitches and get outs.”

Which is where it always would be settled, no matter how this went down, no matter the moving parts, no matter the street corner. Lucky or not. That’s the hustle.

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