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Buehler spins 10-K gem: 'I enjoy doing this'

@kengurnick
October 24, 2020

Walker Buehler is lined up to pitch Game 7 if he isn’t already home celebrating the Dodgers’ first World Series championship in 32 years. Buehler pitched the Dodgers a big step closer to their drought-ending goal with a 6-2 win over the Rays in Game 3 of the World Series

Walker Buehler is lined up to pitch Game 7 if he isn’t already home celebrating the Dodgers’ first World Series championship in 32 years.

Buehler pitched the Dodgers a big step closer to their drought-ending goal with a 6-2 win over the Rays in Game 3 of the World Series at Globe Life Field on Friday night. The Dodgers hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven showdown after Buehler flashed the big-stage dominance of Orel Hershiser in 1988, Sandy Koufax in ‘63 and ‘65, and Johnny Podres in ‘55.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 20 LAD 8, TB 3 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 21 TB 6, LAD 4 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 23 LAD 6, TB 2 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 24 TB 8, LAD 7 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 25 LAD 4, TB 2 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 27 LAD 3, TB 1 Watch

None of those heroes lacked confidence and neither does Buehler, who’s fearless when the lights shine brightest.

“I think the more you do these things, the calmer you get,” Buehler said. “I don’t want to keep harping on it, but I enjoy doing this, and I feel good in these spots.”

This victory didn’t clinch a title and Buehler was allowed to work only six innings, but he was masterful, becoming the first pitcher to strike out 10 in a World Series start of six innings or fewer. He allowed one run on three hits with a walk, had a no-hitter through 4 1/3 innings and made 93 pitches.

At 26 years and 87 days, Buehler is the youngest pitcher with a 10-strikeout World Series game since Josh Beckett in Game 3 in 2003 (23 years and 159 days).

“That might have been the best I've ever seen his stuff, really,” said catcher Austin Barnes, who has been behind the plate for Buehler’s last two overpowering outings.

Statcast agrees with Barnes. Buehler’s strikeout of Ji-Man Choi in the second inning was on a four-seamer with a 2,856-rpm spin rate, the fastest of Buehler’s career for that pitch.

Buehler is already being compared with the franchise’s World Series pitching heroes, because he’s already building a World Series resume.

In 2018 against the Red Sox, he threw seven scoreless innings with two hits in the 18-inning marathon that Max Muncy won with a walk-off homer. Buehler is only the seventh Dodger with a 10-strikeout World Series game, joining Koufax (three times), Don Newcombe, Sal Maglie, Clayton Kershaw, Carl Erskine and Don Drysdale. He has the first World Series start with at least 10 strikeouts since Kershaw had 11 in 2017.

Buehler is doing things in Octobers that Hall of Famers and franchise legends do.

“I haven’t wrapped my head around all that he’s accomplished in such a short period of time,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and in history. He’s in some really elite company. I’m just happy he’s wearing a Dodger uniform.”

Add in all the other postseason rounds since his arrival, and Buehler’s career mark is 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts. That includes last Saturday’s Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, in which he blanked the Braves over six innings. His 39 strikeouts this postseason are a franchise record for a single postseason.

Wait, there’s more. Buehler joined Kershaw (Game 1, 2017) and Koufax (Game 7, 1965) as the only hurlers in franchise history with double-digit punchouts while not surrendering more than three hits in a World Series start.

Buehler has 17 strikeouts in two career World Series starts, becoming the first pitcher with at least that many over his first two World Series starts since Beckett (19 in 2003). He’s also second to Gerrit Cole for lowest opponent batting average in postseason history (min. 10 starts) -- .178 to Cole's .179.

Teammates who have witnessed Kershaw’s decade-plus of dominance are shaking their heads in amazement.

“The fastball command was incredible,” said third baseman Justin Turner, whose home run in the first inning gave Buehler an early lead and the currency to be aggressive. “And just the way he pitches and attacks and how aggressive he is, going right at guys. He’ll mix in the cutter or the slider or mix in the curveball to lefties, but he pitches with his fastball and he’s aggressive with it. It is what it is. You know he’s going to throw it, and he says, ‘Hit it if you can.’ He got a lot of swings and misses with it tonight.”

The opposition was similarly amazed.

“You can see the fastball just popping through the zone,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “He spun a couple breaking balls. But other than just a few breaking balls here or there, it was very much a ‘here it is, hit it’ approach. You totally understand and appreciate why he’s so talented and destined probably for a lot of success. He’s got a really special fastball that just gets on hitters, and he commands it well.”

Buehler retired the first seven batters, including four consecutively with strikeouts. He allowed a one-out walk to Kevin Kiermaier, who was erased on Mike Zunino’s double-play grounder to Turner. The no-hitter was lost in the fifth inning on a one-out double by Manuel Margot, who was doubled home one out later by Willy Adames. Buehler struck out the side in the sixth inning around a single by Austin Meadows, after which Roberts got work in for relievers Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Kenley Jansen.

Buehler had a slow ramp-up in Summer Camp and conservative usage in September, when he developed finger blisters, but those decisions now appear to have the budding ace peaking at the perfect moment in Dodgers history.

“Yeah, I think we’ve done a good job, you know?” Buehler said. “Obviously, there’s a few games I wanted to keep going and keep going and keep going. But that’s what you want -- you want an organization that’s going to hold you back, and I think as a player you want to keep going. No, we’ve done a good job with it.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.