But Buehler boxed himself in during the top of the fourth, walking Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Howie Kendrick in quick succession to bring Asdrubal Cabrera to the plate. With his wavering fastball control prompting a visit from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Buehler went to his curveball twice. Cabrera came up empty on the first and then chased again, sending a meek comeback to the mound.
Cabrera’s whimpering dribbler was the biggest threat Buehler faced, as the all-star gave up just one hit and struck out eight in six innings to lead the Dodgers to a 6-0 win at Dodger Stadium.
“I have a lot of trust in Honey,” Buehler said, blank-faced, after his first career postseason win. “We felt good about where that pitch was for me to him. I made a pitch and got out of it.”
The Nationals, so exuberant as they celebrated their wild-card win two days earlier, were doomed by quiet bats early and overwhelmed by the Dodgers’ offense late. Los Angeles, in search of its third straight World Series trip, looked every bit of the record-setting, 106-win favorite, steadily controlling a pitcher’s duel through six innings before breaking open the game with late fireworks.
“They’re good, they’re really good,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said. “That’s why they have been in the postseason so many years in a row. We didn’t play very well today. … Honestly, we’re facing some really good pitchers.”
Buehler, who went 14-4 with a 3.26 era this season, needed scant help and the Dodgers offense was more than up to the task. Los Angeles manufactured a first-inning run thanks to three walks by Corbin, scored again in the fifth thanks to a Howie Kendrick error at first and then padded the final tally with eighth-inning homers by Gavin Lux and Joc Pederson. As Washington struggled with self-inflicted pain, Buehler impressed Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts with his steady demeanor.
“There’s guys who want those opportunities and like those big moments and want to be the guy,” said Roberts, who predicted this series would be an “ode to the old school” because it would be settled by which team received superior starting pitching. “[Buehler] knows how to temper and control his emotions and transfer that into his delivery. From that first throw, he was on point tonight. That’s a really good [Nationals] lineup over there. We needed that one.”
While the 25-year-old Buehler, who got the Game 1 start over Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-jin Ryu, entered these playoffs with just 23.2 innings pitched in the playoffs, he has already made history. According to Stats Inc., he is the first National League pitcher to have back-to-back playoff starts of six or more innings while allowing two or fewer hits. Buehler went seven innings in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series against the Boston Red Sox.
“I didn’t pitch in any big games in high school, just some rivalry games in Lexington, Kentucky,” Buehler said. “You get to college and throw in some big games. I don’t know if there’s a singular moment. I think there’s a compounding effect of playing games. There’s certain feelings — nerves and adrenaline — you did it enough times and they become normal, they don’t overwhelm you.”