Powered by Puig, Dodgers muscle their way back to the World Series

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The Dodgers — out of it in May, reeling in August, desperate throughout September — are heading back to the World Series, where the American League champion Boston Red Sox will await.

“This is a team that doesn’t have ‘easy’ in the playbook,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said late Saturday night, moments after a 5-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. “We like to do things the hard way. But it’s an extremely talented group, and one who’s really, extremely focused on winning four more games and winning a World Series championship.”

Walker Buehler, only the fourth rookie in the past 30 years to start a Game 7, recorded the first 14 outs, giving up only a Christian Yelich home run and striking out seven batters. Clayton Kershaw, three days removed from a masterful performance in Game 5, mowed through the Brewers in the final inning.

In between, there was Julio Urias, Ryan Madson and Kenley Jansen combining to allow only one baserunner in 4⅓ innings. There was Bellinger, struggling with his swing throughout October, taking Jhoulys Chacin deep with the two-run home run that proved to be the difference. There was Chris Taylor, with all his positional flexibility, making a sensational over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track.6

And there was Puig, soaking in this experience like few others, delivering the decisive blow — a three-run shot on a low-hanging line drive to straightaway center field.

“I’m just so proud of our guys for enduring this roller coaster of a season,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “A lot of people had their hand in this. And for us to just continue to lean on each other, depend on each other and stay the course, it says a lot about the focus, the toughness, of this team.”

The Dodgers have not claimed a championship trophy in 30 years and are making a second straight trip to the World Series for the first time in 40 years.

Their road back was a bumpy one. A loss to the Astros in Game 7 of last year’s World Series was followed by a conservative offseason, one motivated by the organization’s desire to dip under the luxury-tax threshold. It bled into a staggeringly slow start, which saw the Dodgers fall all the way to 16-26 on May 16. Corey Seager, their dynamic young shortstop, was lost for the year because of Tommy John surgery. Justin Turner, their veteran leader, was on the shelf with a broken wrist. Jansen, their star closer, was off to a slow start. Kershaw, their future Hall of Famer, was attacking hitters with a slower fastball.