LOS ANGELES -- Walker Buehler wiped away falling tears on Wednesday night, having done everything in his power for just shy of seven innings in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, only to watch the game slip away from his Dodgers in a 10-inning, 7-3 loss to the
LOS ANGELES -- Walker Buehler wiped away falling tears on Wednesday night, having done everything in his power for just shy of seven innings in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, only to watch the game slip away from his Dodgers in a 10-inning, 7-3 loss to the Nationals at Dodger Stadium.
He was hurting, and it was not just the result of the baseball game.
“I don’t know if this got out,” Buehler said, “but I lost an aunt two days ago. Kind of putting that on the back burner, then it ends like this. It’s just tough. It’s hard.
“Game 5, winner take all, and for it to work out the way it did, it’s just different. It would be different if we went out and got beat. That’s not how we felt it happened. We won 108 games. Most of the time that gets you past where we ultimately lost. We’re built to keep putting ourselves in this position, but for some guys, it’ll be the last time.”
It was Buehler who best stated the stakes two days earlier, when he sat in a room under Nationals Park and said, “We've got to win a game. And if we don't, we go home.” Game 5 was a matchup of the Dodgers’ best pitcher, Buehler, against the all-time leader in postseason ERA, the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg. One game for a berth in the NL Championship Series. The Dodgers had played for a pennant each of the last three years, and their bid for a fourth straight NLCS appearance rested largely on Buehler’s right arm.
“I'm going to ride him tonight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said before the game.
And that’s just what the Dodgers did, for 117 pitches over 6 2/3 quality innings before Clayton Kershaw emerged from the bullpen to help Buehler out of a jam in the seventh. Pitching for the third time in an elimination game at age 25, Buehler allowed one run on four hits. He extended his postseason scoreless streak to 21 2/3 innings -- fourth longest in MLB history for a pitcher Buehler’s age or younger, behind Babe Ruth (29 innings), Christy Mathewson (27) and Madison Bumgarner (22) -- before the Nationals scored in the sixth.
Buehler left a 3-1 lead to Kershaw with two outs in the seventh and said he thought to himself, "We're home free." Buehler did his job. Kershaw did not, at least not in the eighth, when back to back home runs by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto tied the game at 3 and left Buehler to settle for a hard-fought no-decision.
Two innings after that, the Dodgers’ season was suddenly over. The Nationals are moving on.
“Not the way we want to go out,” said Buehler, who posted a 0.71 ERA and 15 strikeouts in the NLDS. “They have three of the best starting pitchers in baseball. We feel we have three of the best in baseball. Whoever plays better, throws better, hits better, whatever, they’re going to win. They did tonight better than we did.”
Max Muncy and Enrique Hernández provided a 3-0 lead by the second inning, and Buehler cruised early, allowing only Ryan Zimmerman’s two-out single in the second through the end of the fourth.
In the fifth, Buehler encountered his first trouble. The Nationals coaxed 26 pitches from him, starting with Kurt Suzuki’s eight-pitch walk, and Michael A. Taylor singled against the Dodgers' shift to bring the tying run to the plate with no outs.
But Buehler stopped the rally there, with help from Strasburg, who pushed a two-strike bunt attempt foul for a free out that turned the course of the inning. Buehler got a check-swing strikeout against Trea Turner on a cutter in the dirt. Adam Eaton’s flyout ended the threat while Kershaw was getting loose in L.A.’s bullpen.
That inning left Buehler four outs shy of Jerry Reuss’ franchise-record streak of 23 scoreless postseason innings set in 1981. But Buehler wouldn’t get that far. Rendon led off the sixth with a double to left field and later scored on Soto’s sharp single to right, putting Washington on the board as the heart of the order got its third hacks.
Again, Buehler buckled down. He regained control with Howie Kendrick’s ground-ball double play, then struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end the inning.
With Kershaw throwing in the ‘pen again in the seventh at 97 pitches, Buehler found more trouble when he hit Suzuki with a pitch that ricocheted up and hit Suzuki in the head, causing the Nationals' catcher to exit the game. But Buehler then struck out Taylor and retired pinch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera on a lineout.
Buehler walked Turner with two outs to put two runners on as left-handed-hitting Eaton came to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Roberts called for Kershaw, who struck out Eaton and let out a roar on his way back to the dugout.
Buehler’s night was done.
“He was incredible,” center fielder Cody Bellinger said. “He loves the big moment. He loves being the dude on the mound. And he shows it every time. There’s never a question about who wants the ball in certain situations. You tip your cap to Buehler, he gave it all he had."
“Stud,” Hernández said. “If what he’s done the last two years doesn’t put him in the conversation to be one of the best pitchers in the game, with what we saw tonight, I’m sure that people are going to start talking more of him. ... He wants it. He wants to be the guy. Tonight, he did that. He put us in a great position to win this ballgame. At the end of the day, we fell short.”
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.