After several years of automatically handing the ball to Clayton Kershaw in a playoff opener, the Los Angeles Dodgers changed course last season by giving Hyun-Jin Ryu the start in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
With the luxury of long having clinched the NL West for a seventh consecutive season and therefore retaining flexibility to set their rotation however desired, the Dodgers handed the ball to Walker Buehler in Game 1 against the Washington Nationals.
“I think, obviously, all three of our guys deserve the opportunity to pitch the first game of this series,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said this week. “We just felt that with Walker getting an opportunity to pitch the first game, also potentially a Game 5, gives us the best chance to win.”
Buehler went out and not only dominated the Nationals in the opener of the NLDS, he made history in the process. Including his last start in the 2018 World Series, Buehler became the first NL pitcher to ever have back-to-back playoff outings with at least six innings pitched while allowing two hits or fewer.
Buehler now has two such starts in the postseason, which is one behind Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers franchise record. Rich Hill also has two starts in the playoffs with six-plus innings and two or fewer hits, while Zack Greinke has one.
For as well as Buehler pitched, he shared the spotlight with Max Muncy and Gavin Lux, among others. Muncy had three RBI to help the Dodgers stake their lead, and Lux added to it with a pinch-hit solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Lux’s plate appearance came with the Dodgers leading 5-0, and it was one that caught him off guard. “I thought Matt was hitting. I still had my batting gloves in the cage, because I was hitting off the machine all game to stay ready,” he said.
“I didn’t really have enough time to think about anything. I might not even walk into the batting circle (anymore). Just go straight from the dugout into the batter’s box.”
At 21 years and 314 days old, he’s the second-youngest player in MLB history to hit a home run in his first postseason plate appearance. Lux is the youngest player in Dodgers franchise history to slug a postseason homer, and their first to leave the yard in his first at-bat in the playoffs.
Lux is one of four Dodgers rookies on their NLDS roster.