LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers have seen the future and it’s ace-in-the-making Walker Buehler.
Except they need him to deliver now.
Buehler will try to yank Los Angeles out of a 2-0 deficit against the Boston Red Sox when the World Series shifts to Dodger Stadium for Game 3 on Friday.
Clearly, the Dodgers trust their 24-year-old rookie.
He led them to a victory over Colorado in Game 163 that clinched Los Angeles’ sixth straight NL West title.
The right-hander also pitched well in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series against Milwaukee.
Now, the pressure is on the calm and confident kid from Kentucky horse country to keep them out of a potential 3-0 hole.
“It’s a little bit different than a Game 7 tomorrow,” Buehler said Thursday, “but at the same time there’s a little bit of backs-against-the-wall-type of scenario.”
Since starting the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, Buehler has impressed as the heir apparent to three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who could opt out of the final two years of his contract after the World Series.
“Walker is a tremendous talent,” Kershaw said after the NL tiebreaker game. “His competitiveness is off-the-charts, his ability is off-the-charts.”
Buehler was 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 24 regular-season appearances, including one in relief. He was especially good down the stretch with a 1.55 ERA over his last 12 starts.
He’s been the Dodgers’ strongest pitcher in the postseason, even if his numbers don’t back that up. He’s 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA and at least seven strikeouts in each of his three starts.
In Game 163 at home, Buehler tossed one-hit ball into the seventh inning and didn’t allow anyone past second base against the Rockies in 90-degree heat. Similar conditions are expected Friday in stark contrast to the chill that permeated Fenway Park for the series’ first two games.
Buehler’s had one bad inning: Game 3 of the NL Division Series at Atlanta. With Braves fans getting rowdy, he served up a grand slam to Ronald Acuna Jr. in the second.
But he immediately settled down and didn’t allow a baserunner over the next three innings to help preserve the bullpen. In all, he gave up five runs on two hits and three walks in five innings.
“Anytime you’re in situations like that, the more that you can get there and live it yourself, I think does nothing but help you,” he said.
Buehler struck out eight over seven innings of four-run ball in Game 3 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium, but took a 4-0 loss. He was cool on the road in Game 7, allowing only a homer to Christian Yelich and no walks in 4 2/3 innings.
“To be in a hostile, really boisterous crowd in Milwaukee and for him to keep his composure and to execute pitches speaks a lot to him, not only to compete but to eliminate kind of the outside noise and still stay within a game plan,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It just shows a lot of moxie.”
The Red Sox counter with right-hander Rick Porcello, who is 1-0 in two starts this postseason. He’s also appeared twice as a reliever, with Boston winning in each of his appearances.
The Dodgers could use some innings out of Buehler after neither Kershaw nor Hyun-Jin Ryu made it out of the fifth in the first two games of the best-of-seven series.
“We expect Walker to go out there and pitch well and keep us in the game,” Roberts said, “and offensively we’ve got to go out there and get a lead.”
Back in a National League ballpark, Buehler will be batting, too. He already has first professional RBI, having singled in the NL tiebreaker game.
Buehler and his fastball that touches the high 90s will be taking on a big-hitting Boston lineup for the first time in his career.
“He’s got weapons to attack particular hitter’s weakness and also go to his strengths,” Roberts said. “But the number one thing with Walker is that when he’s good, he’s got good fastball command.”
Buehler has been through a lot in his young career. Drafted by Pittsburgh in 2012, he instead chose to attend Vanderbilt and helped the Commodores to the 2014 College World Series title.
The Dodgers drafted him the following year and he received a $1.7 million signing bonus. Soon after, he had Tommy John surgery and was sidelined for 1 1/2 years. He finally made his pro debut in August 2016 and was quickly promoted through the minors.
The Dodgers called him up in September 2017 and he earned his first major league victory two weeks later.
In May, Buehler had a no-hitter through six innings against San Diego but Roberts pulled him after 93 pitches. Still, he was part of the first combined no-hitter in franchise history.
In June, he briefly went on the disabled list after taking a comebacker in the ribs. Yet like his team, Buehler didn’t stay down for long. He came back less than a week later to make his lone relief appearance.
The Dodgers have played from behind all season, and the World Series is proving to be no different.
“Now it’s time to get back to where we need to be,” Buehler said.
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