It took a while for the Dodgers to get their first hit, but they methodically plodded along, running up both the pitch and pitcher count before finally outlasting San Diego, 5-1 in the opener of their National League Division Series on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
The Dodgers entered the sixth inning in a 1-1 tie but without a base hit. That changed with a one-out double by Mookie Betts, putting runners at second and third with one out. A sacrifice fly and a ground ball single brought home both runs, then a double, a single, and a wild pitch brought home two more to break the game open.
The four-run frame came against Garrett Richards and Matt Strahm, the Padres’ sixth and seventh pitchers of the game, after San Diego’s best-laid plans went awry early.
The Padres rolled the dice by activating Mike Clevinger and starting him in Game 1, after an elbow injury limited him to just one major league inning in the previous three weeks. He got another inning in on Tuesday, but after just two pitches in the second Clevinger left the game with a trainer, the warning a 90.9-mph fastball after averaging 95+ in the opening frame.
Clevinger walked three, and threw more balls (14) than strikes (10).
That made this game like the first three Padres postseason games so far this year: a bullpen scramble, with essentially all hands on deck, something San Diego prepared for by including 15 pitchers on their NLDS roster. This was after using 24 relief appearances in three games in the wild card round.
One of those hands on Tuesday was 20-year-old Ryan Weathers, making his major league debut in a postseason game. You might think this is old hat for a pitcher, since Shane McClanahan of the Rays made his debut on Monday night, but these are, to date, the only such pitchers in major league history to debut in the postseason. The lefty Weathers retired four of his six batters faced, walking a pair, but also recorded his first major league strikeout by whiffing Cody Bellinger in the fourth.
In all, the Padres used nine pitchers in Game 1, issuing 10 total walks, just one shy of a record for Dodgers batters in a postseason game., set in Game 2 of the 1956 World Series and Game 4 of the 1974 NLCS.
All four Dodgers hits in Game 1 came in the sixth inning.
“Our whole lineup, obviously it wasn’t the way we wanted to hit, but we grinded it and came out on top,” said Bellinger, who had one of the four hits, drove in a run, and also walked.
Walker Buehler continued to show both the dominant stuff that makes him a worthy choice as a Game 1 starter, and the limitations of managing a blister on his right index finger.
Tuesday introduced a new variable, with Buehler having trouble to throw strikes with anything but his fastball. He threw 64 four-seam fastballs, per Baseball Savant, with 41 for strikes, including 11 whiffs and 20 called strikes. That helped Buehler to strike out eight in just four innings for the second start in a row, matching his postseason best.
But on the 31 pitches that weren’t Buehler’s four-seamer, he only threw 11 for strikes. That contributed to his career-worst four walks and helped push him to 95 pitches in those four innings. He also allowed a career-high three stolen bases. The last of those was by Wil Myers, who walked, in the fourth inning. Then, on an 0-2 count with two outs, Austin Nola singled into left field for the game’s first run.
Buehler since returning from the injured list on September 23 has started three games, and pitched exactly four innings in each of them. He’s allowed three runs in those 12 innings, with 22 strikeouts, so the performance is there. Just in an abbreviated package.
Dodgers relievers were more effective in this one, though their first one used was starter Dustin May, who retired all six batters he faced, including strikeouts of Fernando Tatis Jr., Tommy Pham, and Wil Myers. May only threw 27 pitches, keeping his availability alive later in the series.
Victor Gonzalez, Blake Treinen, and Kenley Jansen combined to retire nine of 10 batters to close out the game.
“It’s hard to fathom what Dustin, Victor, Treinen, and then Kenley did, to come out and shut them down,” Buehler said. “That is a testament to what we do here, and I have a lot of pride in being a part of this.”
Dodgers pitchers have 42 strikeouts through three postseason games.
Recent NLDS history
With Tuesday’s win, the Dodgers improved to 6-2 in Games 1 in the best-of-5 NLDS during this current run of eight straight NL West titles. From 2013-18, how Game 1 went defined the series, with the Dodgers winning the opener and the series in 2013, 2016, 2017, and 2018, and losing both in 2014 and 2015. Last year’s Game 1 win snapped that string, with Washington rallying to win the series in five games.
Game 1 particulars
Home runs: none
WP — Dustin May (1-0): 2 IP, 3 strikeouts
LP — Garrett Richards (0-1): ⅔ IP, 1 hit, 2 runs, 2 walks, 1 strikeout
Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for the Dodgers in Game 2 on Wednesday (6:08 p.m. PT, a half-hour earlier than tonight; FS1), making his 27th career postseason start, tying series analyst John Smoltz for sixth-most all-time.