Plenty happened in Game 3 of the World Series, from Kenley Jansen blowing a one-run lead in the eighth inning to the Dodgers erasing a one-run deficit in the 13th to ultimately earning a 3-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Max Muncy’s walk-off home run in the 18th.
None of that should take away from what Walker Buehler did Friday night.
In the first World Series game of his career, Buehler affirmed he is becoming everything the Dodgers envisioned, a franchise cornerstone who performs like a frontline starter in October as well as in the regular season.
The 24-year-old rookie was Kobe Bryant in a Dodgers cap. He was Orel Hershiser with a 100-mph fastball. He was the postseason hero the city of Los Angeles failed to wish into existence over the franchise’s five previous years.
“He’s a bulldog,” Dodgers first baseman David Freese said.
Buehler was that spectacular, that dominant, in the Game 3 victory. He blanked the highest-scoring team in the major leagues over seven innings. He allowed only two hits. He didn’t walk anyone. He struck out seven.
“Certain people can handle a moment like this and understand what was at stake tonight,” manager Dave Roberts said. “And we needed his best effort. We needed him to go deeper than their starter, log some innings. Some guys run from it. Some guys can’t answer the bell. But this guy, he’s got an overt confidence, a quiet confidence, a little combo. He’s got tremendous stuff. And he lives for moments like this.”
Buehler manufactured this performance when it was absolutely necessary, as the Dodgers began the game trailing the series two games to none. And he did this when nothing less was acceptable, as his team’s slumping offense managed to score only one run over the first 12 innings.
“Got into some good counts and made pitches when I needed to,” Buehler said matter of factly.
The Dodgers are now down two games to one. They have a chance, a very real chance, to win their first World Series title in three decades.
Roberts said he feels comfortable with the relative condition of his bullpen after the 18-inning marathon in large part because of Buehler absorbed the first seven innings. With the Red Sox receiving only 4 2/3 innings from starter Rick Porcello, their originally scheduled Game 4 starter, Nathan Eovaldi, had to pitch six innings in relief.
And if this series extends to seven games, Buehler likely will be the pitcher scaling the mound for the Dodgers in the deciding contest.
The team’s best pitcher will be pitching the most important game. Perfect.
Buehler’s start in Game 3 was all the more impressive because of how unimpressively it started.
Buehler pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, but was required to throw 26 pitches.
The Red Sox’s plan was clear. The visitors wanted Buehler’s pitch count to escalate quickly, which would ensure the right-hander’s early removal.
Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland fouled off a combined 11 pitches in that first inning. They forced Buehler to throw 17 pitches in two-strike counts.
But the Red Sox couldn’t sustain that. Buehler wouldn’t let them.
Jackie Bradley Jr. led off the third inning with a single, but Buehler promptly picked him off as he attempted to steal second base. Christian Vazquez followed with another single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Porcello, but Buehler eradicated the threat by forcing Betts to fly out to center field.
“He made adjustments,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We were putting some good at-bats early on. He was throwing the four-seamer and all of a sudden he started throwing cutters and changeups and he was able to keep us off balance.”
Buehler’s night ended when Matt Kemp batted in the pitcher’s spot of the order in the seventh inning.
Buehler spent the remainder of the game doing whatever he could to improve his team’s fortunes.
“You just do anything you think can bring a little luck,” Buehler said. “You know, you hang out in certain places for a while; it doesn’t work, you move. All that kind of stuff.”
This was the third time this month the Dodgers handed the baseball to Buehler in a must-win situation.
They had him pitch in Game 163 of the regular season, a one-game tiebreaker against the Colorado Rockies that would decide whether the Dodgers were the National League West champions or a wild card. Buehler responded by pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 5-2 victory. The Dodgers went directly to an NL Division Series. The Rockies had to take on the Chicago Cubs in the wild-card game.
Buehler was also called on to pitch in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers. He lasted only 4 2/3 innings but limited the damage to one run.
“You can’t say enough about Walker,” Freese said. “Just a flat-out stud.”
The triumph in Game 7 had value beyond advancing the Dodgers to the World Series. The team’s future No. 1 starter had an opportunity to pitch in a winner-take-all game. So did the pitcher who is expected to be his left-handed complement.
That was Julio Urias, the 22-year-old left-hander who returned from a major shoulder operation to earn a place on the postseason roster. The pitcher of record in a victory in Game 4 of the NLCS, Urias was the reliever who replaced Buehler in the fifth inning of Game 7. With a runner on second base, Urias gave up a line drive to Christian Yelich that was caught at the warning track by left fielder Chris Taylor for the third out.
The future came sooner than expected for the Dodgers. Buehler’s performance Friday night confirmed that.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez