The Los Angeles Dodgers purposely set their National League Division Series starting rotation so Walker Buehler could help them get off on the right foot against the Washington Nationals, and be an option for a potential Game 5 as well.
After the Dodgers and Nationals traded victories, it set the stage for a winner-take-all scenario at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday night. Buehler earned the start on regular rest, and Clayton Kersahw was among the “all hands on deck” options to back him.
“I’m going to have a hard time taking the ball out of Walker’s hand,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday.
“He wants the baseball, I’m going to ride him tonight. He throws well at home, he’s got fans behind him, a lot of energy, he’s got 24 other players supporting him,” Roberts said Wednesday. “I trust Walker in this spot.”
The fiery right-hander went out and turned in another strong performance. He stranded Juan Soto at second base after Corey Seager’s error in the fourth inning and wiggled out of trouble when a walk and base hit started the fifth.
Anthony Rendon’s leadoff double in the sixth and Soto’s RBI single trimmed the Dodgers’ lead to 3-1. Buehler limited the damage and pitched into the seventh inning, giving way to Kershaw with two outs.
The Nationals hit back-to-back home runs off Kershaw in the eighth, and Howie Kendrick delivered a game-winning grand slam in the 10th inning.
“It sucks,” Buehler said of the loss. “We’ve got guys that this may be their last game. Not the way we want to go out. I think it’s kind of well known that we have a really special clubhouse. The front office knows how to put a team together.
“A lot of personalities that gelled, we get along. Whatever round it is, it’s just the end. It’s not about losing a World Series or in the NLDS. It’s the culmination of a group of guys that did it for 200 and whatever days. It sucks.”
Beyond being the starter, the result was particularly trying on Buehler for a personal reason. “I don’t know if this got out but I lost an aunt two days ago,” he revealed while fighting back tears. “So kind of putting that on the back burner and then it ends like this, it’s just tough.”
Even with the death in his family weighing on him, Buehler threw a career high 117 pitches. Roberts keeping Buehler in the game to start the seventh inning was not necessarily the most egregious tactic, but one of multiple decisions that’s earned him criticism.
For his part, Buehler attempted to squash the notion of there being any issue. “It’s the playoffs. I’d throw 150 pitches if they asked me to,” he said. “I really couldn’t care less.”
Although Buehler still is in the early stages of his career, he’s already experienced successes and heartache with defeat in October. “I think it’s about embracing it,” he said of the Game 5 loss.
“Obviously this one is a little different than the past two seasons. Not really knowing how it was two years ago, I think for me it’s a motivational thing. Obviously this stuff doesn’t really leave your mind.
“There are moments, at least in my life, that I can relive any day, anytime, pull it up and feel like I was there. For the most part these end of season losses feel very similar.”