ATLANTA -- Confident Walker Buehler will someday be the Dodgers ace, maybe in a few weeks, and he'll probably be a better one for what he did wrong Sunday.:: NLDS schedule and results ::With a chance for a Dodgers sweep of the best-of-five National League Division Series, the Game 163
ATLANTA -- Confident Walker Buehler will someday be the Dodgers ace, maybe in a few weeks, and he'll probably be a better one for what he did wrong Sunday.
:: NLDS schedule and results ::
With a chance for a Dodgers sweep of the best-of-five National League Division Series, the Game 163 winner suffered a second-inning meltdown after a costly Cody Bellinger misplay and the Dodgers went on to lose to the Braves, 6-5. The defeat forced a Game 4 on Monday with Rich Hill on seven days' rest facing Mike Foltynewicz on three days' rest.
In the history of best-of-five series with the 2-2-1 format, clubs with a 2-1 lead and playing Game 4 on the road have taken the series 18 of 26 times (69 percent). Of those 18 series victories, 14 ended in Game 4, without the club having to return home for a winner-take-all Game 5.
Ronald Acuna Jr.'s grand slam capped the five-run second inning off Buehler, his worst in a brief MLB career. But he also regrouped to retire the next 10 batters and got through a bullpen-saving five innings for a no-decision. The Dodgers tied the game by the fifth, but Freddie Freeman homered on former Braves teammate Alex Wood's first pitch in the sixth inning for the decisive run.
"Sometimes you just lose it," said Buehler. "I'm proud of the way I found the zone after that, but there's no excuse for the second inning. Sometimes you overthrow or you're not looking at the right things or you're not thinking about the right things in the moment and sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don't."
The Braves hadn't drawn a walk in the first 19 innings of this series, but Buehler walked three (one intentionally) in the second, including opposing pitcher Sean Newcomb on four pitches, before falling behind Acuna and serving up a 3-1 fastball that got crushed. Buehler allowed two hits and struck out seven in his postseason debut.
"It's going to be said it's the first playoff game and blah, blah, blah," Buehler said. "I made eight or 10 bad pitches in a sequence and this is a playoff team we're facing and they're good and somebody's going to take advantage. I plan on pitching in a lot of playoff games. This is a good lesson to get out of the way."
Buehler shrugged off a suggestion that playoff pressure got to him, comparing this game to the importance of his Game 163 masterpiece, except that it was loud when he was bad. So, no, one really bad inning did not derail his trademark bravado.
"I don't think you can pitch here if you don't believe in yourself," he said. "If you can walk a guy and walk in a run on national television and embarrass yourself and if you can't figure it out, I don't think you belong here. The 3-1 fastball to Acuna would say I don't belong here, but I don't think that's the case. I'm excited to pitch in this atmosphere again and will do better."
The Dodgers got Buehler off the hook personally thanks to Justin Turner's third-inning single that resulted in two runs, and homers by Chris Taylor and pinch-hitter Player Page for Max Muncy in the fifth. But they also had seven baserunners in the last four innings without scoring, added nine walks for a series total of 20 and went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position to fall just short. Of their 17 hits in the series, seven are homers.
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After a five-pitch first inning, Buehler got himself in trouble by walking Nick Markakis with the first four pitches of the second inning. He fanned Johan Camargo and Kurt Suzuki, then allowed a soft single to center by Ozzie Albies. Bellinger fumbled the ball for a huge error, allowing Markakis to head to third, then Bellinger compounded the mistake by throwing late to third instead of second and Albies also advanced.
Bellinger's misdirected throw opened first base and Charlie Culberson was intentionally walked to load the bases, but things sped out of control and Buehler also walked Newcomb (3-for-72 lifetime) on four pitches to force in the Braves' first run of the series and first against the Dodgers in 23 innings. Acuna launched his grand slam to left-center on a 3-1 pitch for a 5-0 lead. Then Buehler regrouped and retired the next 10 batters, four on strikeouts.
"After that error in center field, I think that he lost his focus a little bit," said manager Dave Roberts. "And for him to go four straight to the pitcher and obviously you get behind Acuna, so very uncharacteristic. But it was good to see him recalibrate and give us five innings to at some point save our 'pen."
Walks got the Dodgers behind and walks got them back in the game in the third when Newcomb gave up a leadoff pass to Enrique Hernandez and was removed after a two-out walk to Taylor. Turner singled home Hernandez and Taylor scored when Acuna overran the ball for an error that also allowed Turner second base.
Two innings later, Yasmani Grandal became the third Dodger to open an inning with a walk and one out later Taylor homered off Kevin Gausman and turned it into a one-run game. Taylor didn't get an at-bat in the first two games, but he established his postseason credentials last year with three home runs and co-MVP Award in the NL Championship Series.
Muncy went lefty-on-lefty against Max Fried in the fifth inning and homered into the Braves bullpen to tie the game, his second home run of the series capped by his best bat flip to celebrate. But in relief of Buehler, Wood's first pitch was blasted by Freeman for a tiebreaking homer leading off the sixth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Dodgers opened the ninth inning with a single by pinch-hitter Joc Pederson and a walk by Turner, but closer Arodys Vizcaino struck out Muncy, Manny Machado and James Dozier for a 31-pitch save.
Dodgers pitchers have limited the Braves to a .144 batting average and .411 OPS. But Machado is 1-for-12 with a homer, seven strikeouts and a .487 OPS.
HE SAID IT
"I'm excited. We've got to win. It's as simple as that." -- Hill
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.