- ESPN MLB insider
Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”
ARLINGTON, Texas — Every start he makes, every time he dominates, Walker Buehler burnishes a resume that’s beginning to resemble those of the best postseason pitchers ever. All he did in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday was bolster his case.
Buehler became the first pitcher in World Series history to record double-digit strikeouts in six innings pitched, and his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates used big bats and small ball to overwhelm Tampa Bay Rays pitchers in a 6-2 victory that left the Dodgers two wins shy of their first championship since 1988.
The postseason bonafides of Buehler, a 26-year-old right-hander, were already impressive. His six-inning, three-hit, one-run, one-walk, 10-strikeout performance ranked among his most dominant yet.
The last pitcher as young as Buehler to strike out 10 in a World Series game? Josh Beckett in 2003.
The only other Dodgers to punch out 10 and allow three or fewer hits in a World Series game? Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw.
Relying heavily on a four-seam fastball that sat at 97 mph, Buehler attacked all four quadrants of the strike zone with his typical equanimity: the slow, deliberate build of his windup into an explosive pitch that generated 12 swings and misses. His curveball, slider and cutter were on point, too, the first time all four pitches have worked this postseason after blisters hindered him in earlier rounds.
Before the game, Rays manager Kevin Cash compared Buehler’s fastball to that of New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole — about as high a compliment as one can give for a four-seamer. With Tampa Bay swinging through five of them to strike out, Cash’s words were prescient, and Rays starter Charlie Morton couldn’t match him zero for zero.
In the fourth, with the Dodgers already ahead 3-0 after a first-inning Justin Turner home run and a pair of two-out runs in the third, the Dodgers went back to their Game 1 ethos and small-balled the Rays into submission. Two singles put runners on the corners, and up stepped catcher Austin Barnes, the No. 9 hitter. He laid down a run-scoring safety squeeze bunt, the first RBI sacrifice in a dozen World Series. Mookie Betts followed with an RBI single and stole second base, and the Dodgers’ lead grew to 5-0.
Buehler allowed a pair of doubles in the bottom of the fifth to Manuel Margot and Willy Adames, yielding his one run on the night, though Barnes answered with a two-out, two-strike home run in the sixth. He became the first player in a World Series game since the New York Yankees’ Hector Lopez in 1961 to record a sacrifice bunt and homer. Prior to the home run, Barnes had gone hitless in his previous 22 World Series at-bats.
The Dodgers scored five runs with two outs and two strikes, tied for the most in a World Series game this century, and reinforced the difference between their offense and a Rays group whose one-dimensionality this postseason served them well but hasn’t been effective in the World Series.
Buehler cruised in his final inning, striking out Mike Zunino, Brandon Lowe and Randy Arozarena swinging to leap into double digits — the first 10-strikeout game of his postseason career. It extended his record streak of six-plus-strikeout games in the playoffs to 11. He had broken the record, which he shared with Randy Johnson, in his last start when he threw six shutout innings in a season-saving Game 6 victory against Atlanta in the National League Championship Series.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Buehler after 93 pitches, handing the game over to relievers Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol, who threw scoreless innings. Closer Kenley Jansen, who was throwing harder than he has all postseason, allowed a ninth-inning solo home run to Arozarena, his eighth of the playoffs, which tied the previous record set by Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz.
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