Big Game Buehler does his part to get Dodgers to Game 7 – Press Enterprise

The narrative has been established: Walker Buehler as the biggest of big-game pitchers. Buehler as the guy who exudes calm in pressure situations. Buehler the dependable, the guy the Dodgers throw out there when they absolutely, positively have to win.

The young ace from Vanderbilt further burnished his big-game credentials Saturday. His six-inning, 89-pitch effort in a 3-1 victory in Arlington, Texas, not only signaled that his blister problems were likely past tense but it helped get the Dodgers to a winner-take-all Game 7 against Atlanta. That was a development few in their fan base believed possible Thursday night, considering the number who risked sprained ankles jumping off the bandwagon.

(Many made their dismay public on social media. And yes, we know who you are.)

Buehler has emotion bubbling under the surface, but he again demonstrated how good he is at controlling it, even with the bases loaded and none out right after his team gives him the lead.

The Dodgers scored three in the first inning on back-to-back home runs by Corey Seager and Justin Turner and an RBI single by Cody Bellinger. But Travis d’Arnaud’s single off Kiké Hernández’s glove and singles to left by Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson, Buehler’s former college roommate at Vandy, put the Braves in position to get it all back right away in the top of the second.

Time to crank up the heater. Eleven of the next 13 pitches he threw were four-seam fastballs. Down went Austin Riley swinging, on a 98.7-mph heater. Down went Nick Markakis looking, on a four-seamer that hit 99.7. And down went Cristian Pache on a ground ball to short, on an 0-and-2 slider.

The explanation for all those fastballs, against a notoriously good fastball-hitting team? Simple.

“That’s my best pitch,” he said, via Zoom. “And I don’t know what else to say besides that.”

Turner marveled at his demeanor in that bases-loaded situation.

“He gets the first strikeout, and he’s calm and collected,” he said. “Gets the second strikeout, calm and collected. And then he ends up getting out of it. And then you see the emotion come out of him after the fact, where I think a lot of guys probably get emotional and ride that roller coaster after the first strikeout and then maybe lose focus on that next hitter. His mound presence is just unbelievable.”

The real story?

“You want to use the adrenaline in these big games and big spots like that,” Buehler said. “And sometimes that can kind of spin you out a little bit, even if you feel like you’re embracing it. So to be honest with you … this sounds very odd. I’ve never felt that calm in a baseball game maybe in my career, especially in a spot like that.”

In print, that sentence could be interpreted two ways. But hearing Buehler say the words, it seemed as if he was saying he doesn’t feel as calm as he looks.

“(Catcher Austin) Barnes steered me through it, and that’s all there really is to it,” Buehler said. “… You have all these game plans and things that you want to do or want to try and do. And at the end of the day I think Barnes has the best view of the baseball from what it’s doing out of my hand of anyone on the field – him and Will (Smith). I’m going to trust what they see and what they want to do more than my guess, you know what I mean?”

That second inning was the Braves’ best chance to get even, but Buehler got out of a first-and-second, one-out situation in the fourth when he got Riley to line out to Bellinger in center and Markakis on a bouncer back to the mound. Mookie Betts’ leaping catch at the right field wall ended the fifth with a man on (and the happy dance Betts did right afterward was almost as impressive as the catch itself), and Buehler got Riley on a check-swing third strike to end the sixth, his last inning, with a runner on third.

“Walker emptied the tank,” Manager Dave Roberts said, explaining his decision to go to the bullpen in the seventh. The fatalists among the fan base hated it, but Blake Treinen, Pedro Báez and Kenley Jansen exceeded their expectations and protected the lead.

Perhaps Buehler’s fearlessness has rubbed off on those around him.