Buehler up to Game 1 task in historic outing

First pitcher with at least 7 K's in each of his first 5 postseason starts

October 4th, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- did his part to put the pitching-rich Dodgers on the right path into the postseason.

Firing fastballs that topped out at 99.2 mph -- Buehler threw only one firmer pitch among 1,497 four-seamers in the regular season -- the right-hander worked six scoreless innings Thursday in a 6-0 victory over Washington in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium. It was every bit what L.A. was looking for when it tabbed Buehler for the opening game over the more-tested and .

Make it 16 2/3 scoreless innings and counting in the postseason for Buehler, who allowed only one hit and three walks while striking out eight, making him the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out at least seven batters in his first five playoff appearances. , the Hall of Famer, is the only other pitcher to do that through four career postseason games.

“There's guys that want those opportunities, like those big moments, and want to be the guy,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “From that first throw, he was on point tonight.”

At 25 years, 67 days old, Buehler became the youngest pitcher in MLB history with eight-plus strikeouts, no runs and one hit or fewer allowed in a postseason game.

The Nationals’ only hit against him was Juan Soto’s single leading off the second inning. Their only real threat came in the fourth, when Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon each walked with one out before Howie Kendrick walked with two outs to load the bases. Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and rookie catcher Will Smith came out for a chat. Buehler induced an Asdrúbal Cabrera comebacker to end the inning.

Smith was asked to describe Buehler’s demeanor while he was surrounded by bases full of opposing runners.

“He’s the same,” Smith said. “Confident. In his mind, the run is not crossing. That’s how it should be. That’s why he’s good.”

And Buehler was good Thursday.

“From center field, it’s fun to watch those guys,” said Cody Bellinger, who patrolled that position for much of Thursday night.

Said right fielder Chris Taylor: “I think he will tell you that wasn’t his best stuff. He has very high expectations of himself. But he is that good, where he’ll throw six shutout innings not feeling his best.”

And rookie Gavin Lux: “He’s an animal. He gets after it. He’s the most confident human being on this planet. I think you kind of have to be that way to be a baseball player. He’s got that ‘it’ factor, for sure, and he was really good tonight.”

Buehler mused aloud Thursday night about where that attitude came from. He admittedly didn’t pitch many “big” games growing up in Lexington, Ky., but found a national stage in college at Vanderbilt. He helped win the College World Series in 2014 and went to the Dodgers 24th overall in the 2015 Draft, and he was in the big leagues two years later. A year after that, in 2018, Buehler made his postseason debut.

“I played against him growing up in high school, hit against him in college, and you could tell back then he’s a special guy,” Smith said. “I think I faced him a couple of times in high school when no one was throwing 90, and he was throwing 95. He was firm then.”

What’s the secret to staying calm on the mound in October?

“I would just say that I think when you try and be simple and do what you've done all year and kind of control your heart rate, I think sometimes it helps to kind of embrace the atmosphere,” Buehler said. “Kind of learning to do that, I think, has been the biggest thing for me. Luckily it's played out all right for me.”

The Nationals could see more of Buehler if the teams play to a decisive fifth game. It would be back here at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, and if there were any thought that a Game 5 could go to Kershaw, who is slated to pitch Game 2 on Friday night and would be on regular rest for a Game 5, Buehler probably erased that possibility.

“I feel like right now, we're trying a little too hard,” Nationals shortstop Trea Turner said. “Just have a little bit more fun and continue what we were doing. I think we put together good at-bats, we’re just trying to do a little too much.”