LOS ANGELES – What a day for Walker Buehler. The rookie with the preternatural calm pitched the Los Angeles Dodgers to a record sixth consecutive National League West title.
Buehler tossed one-hit ball into the seventh inning, and Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy launched two-run homers to beat the Colorado Rockies 5-2 in a tiebreaker on Monday.
“It’s a normal baseball game. It’s hyped up, there’s an adrenaline, but you got to execute,” Buehler said. “That’s all you can do.”
The defending N.L. champion Dodgers became the first major league team to win six straight division crowns since the Yankees captured nine A.L. East titles in a row from 1998-2006.
“It doesn’t get old,” confirmed ace Clayton Kershaw.
Los Angeles now hosts Atlanta in the best-of-five N.L. Division Series beginning Thursday.
“We’re going to beat Atlanta,” a shirtless Yasiel Puig proclaimed, rivulets of beer and champagne down his front and back. “No matter who’s coming, we’re going to the World Series and bring the 2018 championship here.”
Denied their first division title in franchise history, the Rockies head to Wrigley Field to play the Chicago Cubs in the N.L. wild-card game on Tuesday night.
“Our guys will put it in the rearview for sure,” Rockies manager Bud Black said of the loss. “The resiliency of this group has been awesome all year.”
Pitching in 90-degree heat, Buehler was oh-so-cool in closing out a regular season that ended with Game 163 after both teams had identical records of 91-71.
The soft-spoken 24-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, has been so steady of late that manager Dave Roberts had no qualms about giving Buehler the ball for the crucial game that helped decide the Dodgers’ postseason fate.
“He’s ready for this moment,” Roberts said, “and he responded.”
Buehler’s only slip-up came on the field after the game when he let loose with an inadvertent expletive, having been handed the mic after fans demanded to hear from him. He clasped his hand to his mouth and apologized.
No need to be sorry, though, after that performance.
Buehler settled in quickly, retiring his first six batters in a row, and never did allow a run.
“Walker is a tremendous talent,” Kershaw said. “His competitiveness is off-the-charts, his ability is off-the-charts.”
Buehler (8-5) had his no-hit bid broken up in the sixth on Charlie Blackmon’s single, one of his two hits for the Rockies.
“He didn’t fold at all under pressure,” Muncy said. “He went there and attacked them just like we knew he was going to.”
Buehler even helped himself offensively, hitting a single in the sixth for his first professional RBI and extending the Dodgers’ lead to 5-0.
“Love that, absolutely,” he said, soaked to the skin.
After giving up a two-out walk to Carlos Gonzalez in the seventh, Buehler exited to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 47,816. He waved his right hand and quickly strode to the dugout as fans chanted his last name. The right-hander struck out three and walked three.
Despite posting the best road record in franchise history (44-38), the Rockies couldn’t get untracked. They didn’t advance a runner past second base until the ninth when Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story homered back-to-back off closer Kenley Jansen.
Jansen then retired the next three batters in a row.
“What happened?” Jansen said when asked about the homers. “We’re first in the division, that’s what happened.”
The Dodgers’ two homers extended their franchise and N.L.-leading total to 235 on the season.
Bellinger got the Dodgers on the board with his 25th homer in the fourth, a two-out shot to left that made it 2-0. Muncy struck out leading off but was safe at first on a passed ball by catcher Tony Wolters. After Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal struck out, Bellinger connected on a 1-0 pitch from German Marquez (14-11).
Joc Pederson doubled to deep right-center leading off the fifth. One out later, Muncy hit his 35th homer to left-center, extending the lead to 4-0 and chasing Marquez.
Marquez gave up four runs – two earned – and five hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out nine and walked two.
The Dodgers played their first tiebreaker since 1980, when they lost to Houston for the division title.
The Rockies were on a roll coming into the club’s second tiebreaker and first for the N.L. West title, having won nine of 10 since being swept at Dodger Stadium from Sept. 17-19.
“Today was unfortunate, but the fact of the matter is we have a chance to win the World Series,” Blackmon said. “I feel like most of the guys are looking at this as a great opportunity.”
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