MILWAUKEE (AP) — Yasiel Puig and Cody Bellinger flexed their muscles. Chris Taylor flashed some leather.
Then the Los Angeles Dodgers got a lift from ace Clayton Kershaw out of the bullpen to finish off the Milwaukee Brewers and return to the World Series.
Puig broke open a tight game with a three-run homer in the sixth inning, Taylor robbed Christian Yelich with a super catch and the Dodgers took Game 7 of the NL Championship Series with a 5-1 win on Saturday night.
It’s off to Fenway Park for a showdown against the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s going to be a pretty special series,” said Bellinger, chosen as the NLCS MVP.
Los Angeles hasn’t won the World Series since 1988. The Dodgers and Red Sox have met once before in the World Series, back in 1916 with Boston beating Brooklyn behind a big game from pitcher Babe Ruth.
Kenley Jansen tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings before yielding to Kershaw in the ninth. The three-time Cy Young Award winner, pitching on two days of rest after starting Game 5, tossed a perfect inning and finished off the Brewers by striking out Mike Moustakas.
Kershaw’s teammates mobbed the lefty near the mound after the final out, and the celebration was just beginning for manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers.
“I’m so proud of our guys during this roller coaster of a season,” Roberts said.
What a finish for a team that was 10 games under .500 on May 16.
The Dodgers have talked about having unfinished business after losing Game 7 of the World Series last year to the Houston Astros. Now they’ve made baseball’s final series of the year in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1977-78.
The Brewers had their chances against rookie starter Walker Buehler, a 24-year-old right-hander who navigated through trouble over 4 2/3 innings. He allowed six hits, including a home run in the first by Yelich that made it 1-0.
Yelich looked like he would get to the Dodgers again in the fifth with Lorenzo Cain on second with two outs. The NL MVP candidate hit a high, hard liner to left that seemed destined to fall in for a double.
Running at full speed to his left, Taylor extended his glove hand high in the air just as the ball settled into the mitt to end the inning.
“I didn’t think he was going to catch it,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “That’s what made it so impressive, just the ground he covered.”
Taylor reversed course and ran excitedly back to the dugout, screaming “Let’s go!”
The Dodgers they waited for lights-out lefty Josh Hader to leave the game to get their bats going again.
Counsell inserted Hader into the game in the third after starter Jhoulys Chacin gave up a two-run homer to Cody Bellinger in the second for a 2-1 lead for the Dodgers. Hader tossed three shutout innings, striking out four being pulled after 31 pitches.
Milwaukee’s vaunted bullpen scuffled in the sixth.
Puig’s three-run shot off reliever Jeremy Jeffress quieted the breathless, screaming Brewers fans at Miller Park.
The excitable outfielder raised both arms as he rounded second, wiggling his fingers skyward to mimic the Brewers’ trademark celebration move. Manny Machado, the object of nonstop boos from Milwaukee fans, obliged with the same gesture as he watched from the dugout steps.
Bellinger raised his right arm and pointing to his biceps as he rounded third after his homer.
“I was looking for a pitch up, two strikes, just trying to put a good swing on it,” Bellinger said. “Luckily, it went out of there.”
The mighty Dodgers, who hit an NL-best 235 homers, outslugged the Brewers, who were second in the league with 218.
The loss ended a remarkable year for the Brewers. A late surge led by Yelich lifted Milwaukee from 5 1/2 games out of the NL Central lead on Aug. 28 to one win short of the franchise’s second World Series appearance.
“They took us on an amazing journey,” Counsell said about his team. “It was a magical run.”
An American League team in 1982, the Brewers lost the Series in seven games that year to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Game 7 against the Dodgers was the first at home for the franchise, coming 36 years to the day after losing the seventh game to the Cardinals in the Series.
Same result on Saturday.
But with Yelich and first baseman Jesus Aguilar emerging as offensive cornerstones, and a deep well of young pitching in the majors, the Brewers figure to be a team to beat again in the National League in 2019.
They’ll have to dethrone the Dodgers.