Buehler’s masterpiece etched his name in Dodgers history

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AP Photo/Eric Gay

No moment is too big for Walker Buehler. He felt calm, took deep breaths and maintained his focused energy. The way he pitched on Friday night, he put his stamp on this October, he blossomed into a pitching legend of the fall.

The way he went right after the Rays’ hitters, the way he punished them with his lethal arsenal of pitches, he added to his postseason resume. The hottest arm in baseball right now is Buehler, and nobody in that Rays’ lineup can cool him down. Not sure the Rays ever will catch up to the heaters he throws at you. And so thanks to the hard-throwing, strikeout machine, the Dodgers take a 2-1 lead with a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay in Game 3.

In four starts, Buehler had accumulated a 1.89 ERA and an OPS of .619. Now 26 years old, he has objectively been the better pitcher in the team’s starting rotation, as evidenced by his outstanding night. Buehler, up to this point, has answered every challenge and proven capable of winning games with his strong arm.

There’s no secret to the fact that the Dodgers are counting on Buehler to bring his ace-like stuff whenever he’s on the mound. And he has done just that in every start when pitching becomes a vital element of the team in October. With the series tied one game apiece, he stood on the mound, tucked the ball inside his glove, faced Rays’ hitters, went to work and delivered.

The Dodgers right-hander has done it so many times that nothing seems to rattle him. Not even the blisters on his throwing hand. Buehler’s legend begins to take shape as he continues to sustain his dominance. Maybe this is a mere prelude to what he could bring in the upcoming years. It was his most dominant performance, to be sure, and that’s traditionally how baseball works, particularly in the postseason.

He allowed just one run on three hits and one walk while striking out 10 over six innings, and earned his first career World Series win. He became the youngest pitcher to have 10 punchouts in a World Series game since Marlins’ Josh Beckett did it as a 23-year-old in 2003. This is the third Dodger pitcher to allow three or fewer hits while striking out 10. Only Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw had done it before.

It proves that he’s an elite-level performer. It shows that he’s a staple of a deep pitching staff as he was in win-or-go home situations several times before. The night ended, amazingly, with Buehler putting his name in elite company. This was no small task, and Buehler was up to the challenge, and his outing was a showcase for his brilliance.

Buehler’s ability to be a big-game pitcher showed in 2018 when he threw 6 ⅔ shutout innings against Colorado to clinch the NL West in Game 163. The last time he started Game 3 of the World Series, he gave up two hits and struck out seven, shutting out the Boston Red Sox over seven innings in a dominating outing at Dodger Stadium. And in his start the following year, in Game 1 of the 2019 NLDS against the Washington Nationals, he threw six shutout innings and permitted just one hit.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that his first three starts this postseason were excellent. His NLCS Game 6 with six shutout innings was masterful and Friday’s masterpiece was astounding as well, quickly evolving into one of the more admirable pitching performances in Dodgers history.

A big part of why Buehler pitches consistently and confidently is because he prepares his body for moments like these. The burden becomes less difficult when he is given the ball because he trains his mind and treats the game as if he would any other game. And as you know, he enjoys being on the mound in big moments. Buehler’s masterwork was the most beautiful piece of art you’ve ever seen. It was, in some way, as if a great L.A. muralist had just finished painting a stunning portrait of vintage Dodger pitchers who came before him.

Buehler was virtually unhittable and baffled hitters with his knuckle-curves, sliders and cutters. His combination of a fastball that can reach 97 mph was nearly unbeatable. It is fair to say that he’s emerging as the next dominant staff ace and is already regarded as a true October legend. This night was another glimpse of what is still to come.

For sure, the Dodgers are stacked with the required parts needed to win a seven-game series against the little guys from Tampa. The little guys tell the Cinderella story of a small-market team trying to win its first-ever title in the history of the franchise. The Rays’ run to the Fall Classic was simply stupefying and bodacious, and the Dodgers’ sudden return to the World Series is a feeling of intoxication or euphoria.

Given the Dodgers’ collection of elite bats, it was early that they jumped on the Rays. It started in the first inning when Justin Turner was at the plate. With two outs and nobody on base, he hit his 11th career postseason homer to tie Duke Snider for the Dodgers’ franchise record. In the third, he ripped a two-out double to left that set the stage for Max Muncy’s two-run single.

After building a three-run cushion, two singles put runners on the corners, with Austin Barnes, the No. 9 hitter due up. He laid down a run-scoring bunt, then Mookie Betts followed with an RBI single and stole second base, and the Dodgers added to their comfortable lead.

But we saw a master of his craft in Game 3, and no matter how you view it, Buehler is the next guy in line to become the face of this pitching staff. There’s a reasonable case to be made that Buehler has been the most dominant pitcher in the game, and that’s not to diminish Kershaw’s greatness. There’s a lot of numbers that prove that Buehler is superior to Kershaw, whose numbers aren’t nearly as impressive as Buehler’s in October.

For the Dodgers, this season is about ending a 32-year title drought and bringing joy to the city. If that happens, they may need another encore from Buehler.

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