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The Complete Walker Buehler: A 2021 #SaveEli Post-Mortem

#SaveEli’s Greatest Hits: “Mr. Saturday Night” / “Synchronicity, Serendipity, or Being Larry David”

Walker Buehler warms up in San Francisco
| Michael Elizondo

As #JuniorCircuit has a signature GIF, whenever I return to the past of #SaveEli, I shall draw upon the meme I’ve adopted for my own. I feel that it’s important to lean into your eccentricities. Plus, the GIF really does sum up that first trip.

For the most part, these main page Post-Mortems will be the Greatest Hits of the Player Reviews or Alternate Cuts that never saw the light of day because the Comments closed out on me.

I wouldn’t say I’m bonafide, but these essays did move on up.

Without further ado...

Part 1 - The A-Side

Or “The Heir Apparent No Longer” or “Mr. Saturday Night”

Just the Ace warming up
Michael Elizondo

Dissecting the outings of Walker Buehler in 2021, when I was around, seems akin to being a sommelier in some of the finest wineries in France or a sushi concessioner in some of the most prestigious restaurants in Tokyo, it’s so hard to differentiate between Buehler starts to find which is best and which is worst, because, in theory, it’s all so darn good. Moreover, I did not want for choices of the locale to witness Walker Buehler firmly establish himself as the Dodgers’ ace, now and for the foreseeable future, as demonstrated below.

Buehler warming up in the outfield in San Francisco on May 22, 2021.
Buehler warming up in the outfield in San Francisco on May 22, 2021.
Michael Elizondo

However, when reflecting on 2021 Walker Ferris Buehler,* I realized around the All-Star break that whenever I turned around, he was on the mound for a Dodger start. In fact, I even wondered in a post, just how many times it was actually BuehlerDay. In fact, the answer startled me to the point where I discuss it below.

* His middle name is actually Anthony, which seems like a missed opportunity. Oh well.

Buehler pitching in San Francisco on May 22, 2021.
Michael Elizondo

That line of thought raised an overall question: just whose day was it when I was around the Dodgers this season. For 30 regular-season games, it wasn’t all that difficult to figure out. For the sake of completeness, Julio Urias was the starter for NLDS Game 2 and that game isn’t counted in the tally below.

The Staff Compared to The Ace

The Staff Frequency Who Pitched... ...Against Who, Respectively Dodgers Team Respective Result
The Staff Frequency Who Pitched... ...Against Who, Respectively Dodgers Team Respective Result
Once The Bullpen† @ Cardinals W
Once Mitch White @ Cardinals L
Once David Price @ Giants L
Once Max Scherzer @ Reds W
Twice Dustin May @ A’s, @ Brewers W, L
Twice Tony Gonsolin @ Pirates, @ Cardinals W, L
Thrice Clayton Kershaw @ Cubs, @ Atlanta, vs. Diamondbacks L, L, W
Quarce‡ Trevor Bauer (@ Brewers, @ Cubs, @ Giants, @ Atlanta L, L, W, L
Five Times Julio Urias vs. Reds, @ Angels, @ Pirates, @ Giants, vs. Diamondbacks L, L, W, W, W
The Staff Totals 20 Starts 9 Different Pitchers 17 Road Starts, 3 Home Starts 9-11
The Ace Ten Times Walker Buehler vs. Reds, @ Cubs, @ Giants, @ Pirates, @Diamondbacks, L, L, W, W, W, L, W, W, W, L
@Marlins, @Rockies, @Giants, vs. Padres, @Reds
The Ace Totals 10 8 Road Starts, 2 Home Starts 6-4
Michael Elizondo

† For my purposes, a bullpen game isn’t a bullpen game unless it’s planned that way. Otherwise, it gets confusing. May’s injury and Gonsolin’s short leash are hence addressed with this reasoning.

‡ Quarce is technically a word but isn’t the official term for four times, because apparently, the Oxford Dictionary stops after thrice.

It’s quite a load on those skinny shoulders.

Vista shot of where I was sitting in Pittsburgh for Buehler’s start on June 8, 2021 – once the rain cleared.
Michael Elizondo

As I previously said, the running joke, for quite a while, was that I probably saw him more often than his mother did. I originally thought that the classic, yet somehow really creepy 80s “Every Breath You Take,” would be appropriate here, but I’m not, nor I was ever, stalking Walker Buehler. So instead, let’s frame this happenstance of schedule as a stakeout. And one song immediately jumped to mind.

Most of Buehler’s starts that I was present for were on Saturday – hence Mr. Saturday Night. It was either the above or inflicting Saturday Night Fever on any poor soul that happens by.

It’s worth noting that outside the first four-city trip, I didn’t plan my games around who was pitching. During the initial trip, I wanted to see every member of the rotation. In my poverty days, prior to becoming an attorney, I used to schedule trips around when Kershaw was pitching, because back then he was as close to a sure thing as you could get. After that trip, whoever was pitching on the day I was available was good enough for me. I did want to see Max Scherzer again as I once saw him as a Nat in D.C. in 2015, which I was able to do.

Overall, Buehler’s statline when I was around was as follows:

Walker Buehler’s Statline when I was around in 2021

Record Innings Pitched Hits Allowed Runs / Earned Runs ERA BB K HR HBP bWAR
Record Innings Pitched Hits Allowed Runs / Earned Runs ERA BB K HR HBP bWAR
6-1 65 2/3 46 21 / 20 2.74 15 68 3 3 6.7
Michael Elizondo

Truly solid stuff and he likely hasn’t reached full power yet.

Buehler with the K in Denver on July 17, 2021.
Michael Elizondo

If Buehler has a flaw in his game, apart from being winded at the end of this year from reaching a career-high in innings pitched, is that he walks too many people (relatively speaking). Surprisingly, he issued at least one free pass in every start but one, and at least two free passes in six of them. However, that was the maximum amount he allowed. Granted, this flaw is not a major one – he’s not on Kershaw’s level yet, however, he did do a Kershaw-impression this year by being gassed and ultimately being let down by his offense and his bullpen to appear mortal on the national stage against a team wearing a red uniform.

Something tells me that Eddie Rosario will not go down in Dodgers’ infamy like Matt Stairs or Matt Adams. But we’ll see.

Michael Elizondo
Michael Elizondo

Buehler pitching in Miami on July 5, 2021.

Looking back, in 2021, Buehler had three modes: God Mode, Ace Mode, and Mortal Mode.

Buehler was in full control of his faculties (hence God Mode) on two occasions in my presence in 2021, which are discussed in depth below.

As to what I called Ace Mode, Buehler pitched at least 7 innings and gave up two or fewer runs, six times in my presence in 2021. He won all six starts.

Buehler frankly only looked mortal twice in my presence in 2021, his first start (vs. Reds, on April 26, 2021 – 6 1/3 in., 7 H, 5R (all earned), 1 BB, 10K, 1 HR, 1 HBP) and his start in Miami (5 in, 5 H, 4R (three earned), 2 BB, 6 K).

Buehler pitching in Cincinnati on September 17, 2021.
Michael Elizondo

Even Buehler’s lone loss in my presence, he still pitched well – 3 ER in 6 innings isn’t a bad night’s work. As previously stated, in that game, the Dodgers’ offense didn’t really do anything except in the first and ninth innings.

Game of the Year Debate

Generally, I don’t consider it my place to disagree with the substance of main player review, except when to point out a factual error, like Nate Jones isn’t a free agent – he retired back in August. Eric’s choice for Buehler’s game of the year is a solid choice.

Per Eric:

Game of the year

Buehler’s consistency makes this a difficult choice, but we’ll go with May 17 against the Diamondbacks at home. After a single to shortstop by Josh Rojas in the first inning, Buehler did not allow another hit in his seven scoreless innings. He did walk four batters, including three in a row in the fourth inning. But after the bases were loaded, pitching coach Mark Prior paid a mound visit, after which Buehler retired his final 11 batters faced.

I politely propose two alternate candidates for Buehler’s game of the year that merit further discussion.

  • Candidate One: June 8, 2021, @Pirates. Line score: 7 in., 2H*, 0ER*, 1 BB, 2 K – “the Not a Homer Game.”
Buehler dealing in Pittsburgh
Michael Elizondo

At first glance, this statline doesn’t jump out at you. It’s a very solid night, but it’s not eye-popping. I draw your attention to the hits and runs allowed, because, if you dig deeper you’ll likely remember that there was something very special about this game. One of the most bizarre plays in baseball that occurred in 2021: “The Hayes Not-Home run.” (video link to the play here.)

The Not-Home Run In Super Slow Motion
Michael Elizondo

And like usual, I had a front-row seat, but to be fair, I had no idea what the heck was going on until I checked online. As it turned out, we, at the ballpark, all thought that Hayes had homered to put the Pirates up early. The shock of what actually happened was palpable and was truly emblematic of Pirates baseball in 2021.

Adric and me prior to the Not-Home Run game.
Michael Elizondo

As a fun addition to this jaunt down memory lane, I now present alternate perspectives of the play from both the Dodgers and the Pirates.

From the Pirates (yet another shout out to UTree):

  • Candidate Two: June 19, 2021, @Diamondbacks. Line score: 7 1/3 in., 2 H, 2 R (both earned), 2 BB, 11 K – “The almost no-hitter.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Clayton Kershaw be absolutely dominant. As I’ve said elsewhere, I was at this game in 2013, where he went eight scoreless innings, struck out 12 before Brandon League(!) put the Brewers away for 1-2-3 ninth.

But the pure electricity in the crowd that day in Phoenix, I have never felt before or since.

Walker Buehler dominating the Diamondbacks on June 19, 2021.
Michael Elizondo

I was screaming myself to the point where I was hoarse. I hadn’t done that since I was a child.

I understand why Buehler went back out on the mound in the eighth inning, but he was laboring in the seventh. I’d have gone to Treinen then Jansen if the goal was to preserve the no-hitter. Buehler was dealing that night, but the Diamondbacks were fouling enough off so that Buehler was at the 100 pitch mark in the eighth inning. It would have been nice to save some bullets in Buehler’s arm against an inferior opponent. But it’s all hindsight. Buehler reached for the brass ring and just missed it.

There goes the no-no.
Michael Elizondo

Still, it was an electric night. I recorded when the no-hitter got broken up. And with all things, all good things came to an end.

As to the future, here’s hoping we’re continued to be spoiled by Buehler’s pitching dominance for years to come.

Part 2 - The B-Side

Or “Synchronicity, Serendipity, or Being Larry David”

Now, I kept ending up at Buehler’s starts. Ten in total. I even joked during the season that I likely saw Walker Buehler more often than his mother, cracking wise that he should eat his vegetables. Even Eric felt compelled to comment on this fact.

I was amazed [Eli] saw TEN Buehler starts [in person] this year

Posted by Eric Stephen on Dec 31, 2021 | 8:54 AM

I didn’t plan to, Eric! It just happened and then somehow…the cringe…the cringe…

If we’re going down this road, it better be done right.

Like I previously said, I kept traveling to baseball on Saturdays, and Walker Buehler was just there. I’m going to blame Dave Roberts – that feels actually appropriate here. #FreeTonyGonsolin. It was BuehlerDay, literally 33% of the time. Heck, if Buehler was a family member, I wouldn’t be at that many games.

Look Eli, cousin Walker’s struck out a dozen Giants! Why can’t YOU do that?

My right arm wasn’t blessed by god…no thank you.

To be fair, I did take this virtual photo of my main man, Tony Gonsolin, and Walker Buehler, which seemed like a great idea at the time on my Dodger tour.
Michael Elizondo

Honestly, if you go to Dodger Stadium, you should do the AR Dugout experience beneath center field. You can get your photos taken virtually with Dodgers who were on the team on Opening Day. I did that twice, once on the tour of Dodger Stadium, discussed below, and once on September 15, 2021, with my friend-date. I let her pick and she picked Urias and Bellinger. From what I noticed, most folks pick from a combination of Kershaw / Buehler / Bellinger / Mookie / Urias / Jansen. Austin Barnes and Dustin May need love too, people.

At some point, when prepping Side-A, the joke of my proximity to Walker Buehler stopped being funny (until it circled around to funny again) because I realized that I kept running into Walker Buehler – completely by accident. And at some point, synchronicity (II) and serendipity turn into a cringefest worthy of being Larry David. And like an earworm that just gets caught in your head, I was trapped in a glass cage of the emotion of awkwardness that I now share with you to close the book on Walker Buehler in 2021.

It all started innocently enough on May 3, 2021, where that day’s baseball was “rained out.” I use quotes because it didn’t rain until late into the evening and the fear was thunderstorms, which didn’t occur at all. There was just a light rain after I had myself some deep dish casserole.

I stumbled upon the area where the Dodgers’ buses were located and I figured I’d loiter until Clayton Kershaw showed up. Of course, Kershaw didn’t show, because he left on the only bus that left before I noticed the bus area.

Loitering by the team buses after a “rain out.”
Michael Elizondo

While I was standing around my own business, hollering at various Dodger players, guess who I see.

Buehler gets on and off and on the team bus. Apparently, I had been standing by the Buehler family and I had not realized it.
Michael Elizondo

Okay, innocent enough. Kind of a neat moment. Not meet Champ Pederson neat, but still pretty good...pretty good.

But that was at the beginning of the season, and I was trying so hard to not be weird and not somehow transmit COVID to the players by respecting their distance.

Anyway, the true source of my cringe is a moment that occurred when I took the tour of Dodger Stadium on September 13, 2021, which I highly recommend. You can do all sorts of things!

For instance:

You can enjoy the quiet beauty of Dodger Stadium without the pesky addition of people…

Just the view from center field. Was perfect picnic weather.
Michael Elizondo

You can walk the field level and pretend you have an ounce of athletic ability – provided you stay off the grass.

No, seriously, stay off the grass.
Michael Elizondo

You can run into Diamondbacks Manager Terry Louvillo for some reason…*

Not Pictured. Some guy on the tour: “Sorry for what we’re going to do to you tonight!”
Michael Elizondo

*Terry Louvillo may not be available on all dates.

You can look for Eric’s name, in vain, while in the press box…

I mean, there’s Jon Weisman. It’s not nothing. Held up the tour group to look.
Michael Elizondo

You can look at the many, many awards that the Dodgers have won over the years, including last year’s championship trophy…

Just hanging out by the 2020 Trophy.
Michael Elizondo

You can run into Walker Buehler in the hallway trying to go to work…

Yup. This moment actually happened.
Michael Elizondo

Wait, what?!?! What did you say to him?

Yay for COVID protocols, because I didn’t say anything. At the start of the tour, the tour guide wisely told us that we were the players if we saw any. The tour guide even argued just how awkward it would be if a player stopped you trying to go to work to talk to you. Besides, I felt so awkward running into him. What on earth would I say?:

“Oh, hi, Walker, apparently I keep accidentally following you around the country. That’s not creepy at ALLLLL!!! HAHAHAHA. So, how’s life and how’s your mom? We’ve been talking and you should eat your vegetables —”

At this point in the hypothetical, security has tackled me and I have to argue to a judge why a restraining order is inappropriate. Yeah, that was so not happening.

As an aside, the argument of what if a player showed up at my job and booed has little sway over me:

Hypothetical Kenley Jansen: Hey Eli – I heard you booed me in April. Well, payback time! Boo, you suck at drafting wills! Boo.

Eli: Fork off, Hypothetical-Kenley – I’m billing you for that. Enjoy me padding your bill!

Eli’s Boss: Eli, my office – now!

Eli: Heh, the post where I admitted that I booed Kenley went blue. I think I still win.

Yeah…I cringed and laughed while writing that. Oh god, I am Larry David! My hair...

So that was my day at Dodger Stadium on September 13, 2021. If you want to see everything I did, please click the following link, if you cannot wait for the Los Angeles entry to the Guide.

Oh hey, these photos look familiar.
Michael Elizondo

One last thing to share: I got lost in the Dodger Stadium parking lot trying to leave. I had to walk around the stadium to find the Uber lot to get back to the hotel and change before Kershaw’s return against the Diamondbacks. It was lovely but it did warm up. Plus, Dodger Security kept following me around because I’m just this guy wandering around the parking lot trying to leave…#NoReally_SaveEli. I’m fairly sure I saw Gavin Lux arrive in the player’s parking lot. We just awkwardly stared at each other for a moment. There’s not much more to that interaction, and it’s not his Post-Mortem anyway. #WaitYourTurnGavin.

And on that note, it’s time to roll credits, I think.

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