Walker Buehler didn’t earn the win in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, but he did all he could to keep the Dodgers’ season alive. He wasn’t alone in the 7-2 win over the Giants on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, but Buehler justified the Dodgers’ decision to pitch him on three days rest.
After the first two games in San Francisco were split, it was Buehler who brought the idea of pitching on short rest, something he’d never done in his professional career. Down two games to one and facing elimination, that option became more and more appealing, instead of mostly a bullpen game with bulk innings from Tony Gonsolin.
“I think taking down as many outs as we can with the best arms available was the original thought,” manager Dave Roberts explained before Game 4.
“To be completely honest, there probably wasn’t anything that could have gone on that I would have told him I didn’t want the ball,” Buehler said. “As long as I could walk into the clubhouse, I think I was going to pitch.”
The decision was not surprising to those involved in the proceedings.
“We’ve got a lot of options, but Walker’s one of the best playoff pitchers I’ve ever seen. He loves the game, he loves the moment,” said reliever Blake Treinen. “This is his time to shine.
“He’s just fearless. There ain’t no situation he’s willing to walk away from. I think he almost challenges himself to be in those situations.”
“He’s one of the best, if not the best postseason pitcher in baseball. Just the mentality has, he’s got the power, strikeout stuff. He attacks hitters,” said Chris Taylor, who started in left field in Game 4. “He’s exactly who we want out there.”
“I figured they would use their best weapon,” said Giants jack of all trades Kris Bryant, who started at his fourth position in four games on Tuesday. “If I was managing, I would too.”
Buehler ran into a little bit of trouble in the second inning, with back-to-back singles by Bryant and LaMonte Wade Jr., and didn’t induce any swinging strikes from his first six batters faced. But he got two from Evan Longoria in striking him out, then ended the threat on a soft liner from Mike Yastrzemski.
Only three more batters reached base against Buehler, but a Longoria single and Steven Duggar walk were bunched together in the fifth, giving the Giants a scoring threat. With Buehler at 71 pitches, having recorded 13 outs and gone two full times through the batting order, his night was done.
For comparison, Gonsolin lasted at least 4⅓ innings only five times in his 15 regular season games this season, all on at least four days rest.
Joe Kelly followed and allowed a single to load the bases, but induced two groundouts to end the inning with one run scored, and a three-run lead. The run was charged to Buehler’s ledger, but that was all for the right-hander, who struck out four and lowered his career postseason ERA to 2.50 in 13 starts.
“Why he’s successful in the postseason, I think he just has a way of controlling his heartbeat, and just making pitches,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of our whole thing, go as hard as you can for as long as you can, and we’ll have somebody behind you.”
After Buehler, the Dodgers used five pitchers, including Blake Treinen for four outs in the seventh and eighth innings. They improved to 9-4 in elimination games under Roberts, dating back to 2016, including winning their last five such contests.
They’ll have to extend that streak to six on Thursday to keep their season going.
“We’re at our best when our backs are against the wall, and we’ve shown that,” Taylor said. “We understand that we still control our own destiny.”
It helped that the Dodgers offense threatened all night. They scored single runs in the first and second inning, a welcome change after getting shut out twice in the first three games of the series.
On Monday the Dodgers didn’t get their fifth hit until the 26th batter of the game, in the seventh inning. In Game 4 things came much quicker against Anthony DeScalafani, how allowed five hits to his 10 batters faced.
A double by Trea Turner scored Corey Seager in the first, then consecutive singles by Gavin Lux and Cody Bellinger to open the second were cashed in by a Chris Taylor sacrifice fly. The Dodgers scored two runs and left a pair of runners in scoring position in those two innings, but they also chased DeSclafani after just five outs, likely ending a rough matchup for him this season.
DeSclafani started against the Dodgers seven times in 2021, allowing a 7.53 ERA and a .319/.393/.504 batting line. Against every other team, in 25 starts, DeSclafani had a sparkling 2.37 ERA with opponents hitting just .209/.251/.329.
Needing to cover 19 outs to get through the eighth innings, the Giants used seven of their eight active relievers in Game 4, everyone except Camilo Doval.
Mookie Betts hit a two-run home run off Jarlin Garcia in the fourth inning, and Gavin Lux reached base four times with two hits and two walks in his first playoff start in centerfield.
The Dodgers tacked on a run in the fifth and got a two-run homer from Will Smith in the eighth, helping to salve the sting of leaving eight runners in scoring position, including at least one in each of the first six innings.
Perhaps it’s fitting that with three League Championship Series participants already identified, the two best teams in baseball get the stage to themselves for one more game. It was a weird path to get here, but Thursday will feature the 109-win Dodgers and the 109-win Giants battling for a trip to the NLCS.
“I will count on our team, any time, any place. That’s what makes baseball fun,” said Treinen. “I mean, it’s never supposed to be easy. Very teams have just waltzed through the playoffs.”
NLDS Game 4 particulars
Home runs: Mookie Betts (1), Will Smith (2)
WP — Joe Kelly (1-0): ⅔ IP, 1 hit
LP — Anthony DeSclafani (0-1): 1⅔ IP, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 strikeouts
Wednesday is an off day, with both teams traveling to San Francisco. Game 5 to decide the NLDS is Thursday night (6:07 p.m., TBS), with Julio Urías starting for the Dodgers, who will try to score their first run(s) against Logan Webb in this series.