“There’s something about Walker Buehler in Dodger white in an elimination game,” Kiké Hernández said before Game 6. “I’ve seen Walker throw some big games, and there’s nobody in that clubhouse that doesn’t believe Walker is gonna have a big game today.”
Buehler has allowed four runs in four starts this postseason. He had a governor in his first two starts while dealing with the two blisters on his right hand, but Saturday saw Buehler less inhibited than he has been all October.
He pitched six scoreless innings, his longest start in eight weeks. Buehler struck out six and, perhaps most importantly, walked none in Game 6 after walking a career-worst five on Monday.
A key point came in the second inning, right after the Dodgers scored three in the first inning. Atlanta opened the inning with three straight singles, ordered such that the slowest of the group, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, was the lead runner, couldn’t score on the third hit.
But the bases were loaded with nobody out, a precarious situation, but one that set up Buehler for a signature moment. Facing the bottom of the Braves’ order, Buehler blew away Austin Riley and Nick Markakis with all fastballs, none slower than 97.7 mph, including a 99.7-mph to Markakis. Against center fielder Cristian Pache, Buehler went cutter-fastball to get two strikes, then used a slider to induce an inning-ending ground out.
“I’ve failed in those moments. I can handle that failure. I’ve been through it,” Buehler said. “I’ve been good after it, so that failure doesn’t really scare me anymore. Obviously you don’t want to fail, but there’s a different feeling when you’re not scared of that failure.”
Three runners stranded to keep the game scoreless had Buehler rightfully fired up on the mound.
“It sounds very odd, but I’ve never felt that calm in a baseball game, maybe in my career, especially in a spot like that,” Buehler said. “But Austin [Barnes] steered me through it.
“Barnes has the best view of the baseball and what it’s doing coming out of my hand of anyone on the field, him and Will [Smith]. I’m going to trust what they see more than my guess.”
Fastball was the main weapon of the day for Buehler, who got 10 swings and misses on the pitch.
“It’s my best pitch. I don’t know what else to say besides that,” Buehler said. “I was lucky to put them in the right spot.”
Buehler allowed five runs and four runs in his first two postseason starts, in 2018. He’s allowed six runs in eight starts since, and now owns a postseason ERA of 2.44. This season, it’s 1.89 ERA.
“He just continues to pitch big game after big game for us,” Justin Turner said.
Buehler also got a little help from his friends. Mookie Betts first made his presence felt in the fifth inning when Freddie Freeman lined a ball to the right center field gap. Betts was on the ball in an instant, preventing any possible thoughts Freeman might have had on a double. Those plays by Betts are plentiful but occasionally unnoticed, like an expert server refilling your drink when you weren’t looking, like a pro.
But then Betts made a much more noticeable play when Marcell Ozuna drove a ball to top of the right field wall with two outs. It was at the very least an RBI double, but instead, Betts leaped to keep the Braves off the scoreboard.
“That’s an unbelievable play by an unbelievable player in the big moment,” Corey Seager said. “That’s what you need to win baseball games at this time of year.”
The overhead angle is particularly great.
Corey Seager got the scoring started with a home run off Max Fried in the first inning, after hitting two home runs the night before. Justin Turner followed with a solo shot, and the Dodgers rallied for three runs in the opening frame.
That was the only offense of the game for the Dodgers, but thanks to Buehler and a resurgent bullpen it was enough. Buehler was pulled after only 89 pitches, though the six innings did match his longest outing of the season.
“Walker emptied the tank, and that was it,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He was gassed.”
Blake Treinen allowed a triple and a double for a run in the seventh, but Pedro Báez pitched a scoreless eight to set up Kenley Jansen for the save in the ninth, working on consecutive days.
Seager has more home runs (five) and RBI (11) than any other player in a single NLCS. The only ALCS performance with more was Nelson Cruz, who hit six homers and drove in 13 in 2013.
In the Dodgers record book, Seager this year has the most home runs (six) and RBI (15) in a single postseason, passing Davey Lopes (1978) for homers and Turner (2017) for runs batted in.
Game 6 particulars
Home runs: Corey Seager (6), Justin Turner (1)
WP — Walker Buehler (1-0): 6 IP, 7 hits, 6 strikeouts
LP — Max Fried (0-1): 6⅔ IP, 8 hits, 3 runs, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts
Sv — Kenley Jansen (2): 3 up, 3 down
A trip to the World Series is on the line on Sunday in Game 7 (5:15 p.m. PT; Fox and FS1). Ian Anderson starts for the Braves. The Dodgers haven’t named their starter yet, but Roberts said, “There’s a good chance Tony Gonsolin will take down a good bit of innings.”
Julio Urias will also be available, and Roberts said he’d check with Game 4 starter Clayton Kershaw to see how he feels before deciding if he’s available to pitch in relief.
Gonsolin, who started Game 2 and is the only starter on regular rest on Sunday, is the best bet to pitch the most innings of the group, and he was asked before Saturday’s game about his approach to pitching in a Game 7.”
“I think it’s the same situation as Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, or Game 1. It’s all the same to me,” Gonsolin said Saturday. “Just got to go out there and throw my game.”
Gonsolin came to Globe Life Field on Saturday wearing this T-shirt:
Of his “PAWS” shirt, Gonsolin said: “It’s a pretty nice shirt. I feel like it’s aggressive, like what we need to do today.”