'On a different planet': Rosario bests Buehler
NLCS MVP delivers decisive three-run homer against Dodgers starter in G6
ATLANTA -- How else to settle a series like this one?
In the batter’s box for the Braves was Eddie Rosario, the out-of-nowhere hero who wouldn’t be denied, especially not in a moment this big.
On the mound for the Dodgers was Walker Buehler, one of three Los Angeles aces who had been brilliant for 6 1/2 months but were pushed to their absolute limits in the throes of October.
Six pitches weren’t enough to settle their duel. With two on, two outs and the game tied, Rosario fouled off three cutters and a two-seam fastball. Stubbornly, Buehler stuck with his hard stuff -- a thigh-high cut-fastball on the inside corner of the plate with his seventh offering. Rosario got the barrel of his bat on it.
Truist Park knew it the moment Rosario made contact, pandemonium erupted before the ball landed in the second row of seats just inside the right-field foul pole.
“It's just amazing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker marveled, “how locked in he is.”
“On a different planet right now,” said Buehler afterward.
Rosario’s blast would prove to be the decisive blow in the Braves’ 4-2 victory in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night, sending Atlanta to its first World Series in 22 years.
Fittingly, Rosario took home MVP honors for an NLCS in which he batted an absurd .560/.607/1.040 -- and delivered the decisive swing in the series’ decisive game.
“It's truly a great moment, not just in my career, but in my life, as well,” Rosario said afterward. “But I want more. I want to win the World Series.”
That goal can wait a few days, now that he’s helped get them there. Rosario’s fourth-inning battle with Buehler on Saturday was perhaps the biggest moment in a series full of them for the unheralded outfielder, acquired at the Trade Deadline from Cleveland for Pablo Sandoval.
The inning started harmlessly enough. Joc Pederson and Dansby Swanson, the first two Atlanta hitters, made outs. The Braves had their No. 8 hitter, Travis d’Arnaud, coming to the plate, with two outs and the bases empty.
d’Arnaud worked a walk, leaving Snitker with a pivotal early decision to make. Right-hander Ian Anderson was sharp at the outset. But he’d begun to teeter in the top of the fourth. His spot was due up in the lineup, and although he’d thrown only 66 pitches, Snitker decided it was time to get aggressive.
Maybe Anderson had another solid inning or two left in his right arm. But, in that spot, Snitker decided the benefits of a pinch-hitter outweighed another trip through the Dodgers’ order with Anderson. So he called for Ehire Adrianza, who shot a double into the right-field corner, putting men in scoring position for Rosario.
That left Roberts with a decision of his own. Max Scherzer had been scratched from his scheduled Game 6 start because of arm fatigue. In his place was Buehler, pitching on short rest for the second time this postseason. He had gone through the Braves order twice and was set to face Rosario a third time. In the bullpen was left-hander Alex Vesia, available to face Rosario and fellow left-hander Freddie Freeman. Roberts stuck with his ace.
“Right there, the way Walker was throwing, I expected him to keep going,” Roberts said. “The stuff wasn't compromised. There was a walk to d'Arnaud, then the broken-bat double, and I just felt that he had enough stuff to get through that and to keep going.”
The fans at Truist Park chanted Rosario’s name last Sunday, when his walk-off single won Game 2, and they began chanting it again with two outs in the fourth.
“It motivates me,” Rosario said. “It motivates me to come through in big moments. That's something you have to earn.”
Buehler got ahead in the count, 0-2. He pounded Rosario with velocity -- two-seamers and cut-fastballs exclusively. Rosario fouled them off, slowly timing Buehler up.
“You can tell that Rosario was sped up, and I don't want to second guess a sequence,” Roberts said. “But certainly we could have done different things. We didn't. But certainly he was on the hard stuff.”
Said Buehler: “I thought I made some good pitches. Thought the one he hit for a homer was a decent pitch. But he was able to elevate it and get it out of there.”
Snitker is convinced it probably wouldn’t have mattered. The way Rosario is swinging right now, it’s not all that important who’s on the mound or what pitches they’re throwing.
“He’s just so locked in,” Snitker said. “I don't know that I've ever seen a guy like that -- for, this has been a long while now -- do what he's been doing. It's been something else.”