No one in the Dodgers’ front office or coaching staff needed to question Walker Buehler. He had already come to her with the answer.
So it was that Buehler found himself back on the mound when Game 4 of the National League Division Series turned into a potential elimination scenario for the Dodgers. It was the first start of his career with less than four days’ rest.
Seeing no bad to wear, Buehler played a 4⅓ scoreless innings on Tuesday. The Giants only faced one run on their laser in the fifth inning after Joe Kelly took over. Buehler allowed three hits, ran two batsmen and scored four runs on 71 pitches.
“To be honest, there was nothing that was going on that I would have told him that I didn’t want the ball,” Buehler said. “By the time I could walk into the clubhouse, I thought I was going to pitch.”
Bühler also reached base in the fourth inning when his ground ball took a sudden jump from pitcher Jerlin Garcia back on the mound. The next batsman, Mookie Bates, scored a two-run home run to give the Dodgers a 4–0 lead.
Buehler has started elimination games after the last two seasons at Dodger Stadium and has not made a decision each time. Unlike Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Dodgers won Tuesday, 7-2, to extend their season by at least a few days. Game 5 of the NLDS is on Thursday night in San Francisco.
“We wanted to make sure he woke up (Tuesday) feeling good,” manager Dave Roberts said of Buehler, “so once he came in today and felt good, it was a no-brainer. ”
The Dodgers picked Buehler for Game 1 of the series in San Francisco last Friday. Buehler made a fine effort, conceding three runs for 6⅓, but his counterpart Logan Webb was the better pitcher in the legendary 4–0 victory.
Right-hander Tony Gonsolin was drafted to pitch in Game 4, after Julio Urias and Max Schazer started Game 2 and 3, respectively. On Monday, Dodgers catcher Will Smith even said that Gonsolin would start the game.
Roberts also did not give a vague hint about who would start after the Dodgers’ 1-0 loss in Game 3 on Monday. But by Tuesday afternoon, the manager was ready to admit what many fans already knew to be true about Buehler: “He’s our best option to start, and he didn’t run from it.”
Buehler’s fastball touched a top speed of 97.5 mph in the first inning, which was consistent with his velocity throughout the season. His final pitch to Steven Duggar in the fifth inning was recorded at 96.6 mph. Meanwhile, of the 18 men he encountered, he retired 13.
“He was making the pitch,” said Dodgers catcher Will Smith. “He was working his offspeed. He had a fastball. He was getting over them.”
Variations may be Buehler’s most effective pitch. He threw nine of them – seven for strikes – something the veterans didn’t expect.
“Over the years it has evolved and gotten better and better,” Smith said of Buehler’s change. “He had a good experience with it tonight so we leaned on him a little more. He was executing.”
Buehler came out of the jam in the second inning, when San Francisco used a pair of singles to put the first and third place runners with an out. After dismissing Ivan Longoria, Buehler dismissed Mike Yastrzemsky, a left-handed hitter, to end the innings.
By the fifth inning, Buehler’s command had begun to waver. A one-out walk for Duggar followed an opposite-field poke single by Longoria.
Pitching to a 4–0 lead, Kelly quickly allowed a single off Tommy La Stella to load the base. The Dodgers conceded a run on the groundout by Darin Roof, before Kelley took Brandon Crawford off the ground to end the innings.
Buehler was twice shy of qualifying for the win, which would have been the fourth of his post-season career, in his 13th debut.
“I think he’s one of the best, if not the best postseason pitchers in baseball,” Dodgers Chris Taylor said. “Just his mindset, and he has the power, the strikeout stuff. He attacks the batsmen. Yeah, that’s what we want out there.”
Prior to Friday, Buehler had not lost a postseason game since Game 3 of the 2018 NL Championship Series in Milwaukee. He has 2.50 ERA in innings after 72 careers.
The Dodgers turned to Buehler in last fall’s elimination scenario. Even needing a 3–3 win over the NL Championship Series, Buehler closed out the Atlanta Braves for six innings in Game 6 in Arlington, Texas.
The Dodgers came back the next day to win that series, before defeating the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series.
Dodgers pitcher Blake Trainen said, “Walker is one of the best playoff pitchers I’ve ever seen and he loves the big game.” “He loves the moment. And it’s a team he’s made for and he, like it’s his, has a moment to shine. He did that for us last year. With his back against the wall, he’s our stopper. And we have so many capable weapons, but it says a lot about him being able to pick up the ball in a position like this.”