The Dodgers’ savior of their 2018 season was not Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu or even Rich Hill.
Instead, it was 24-year-old Walker Buehler, the rookie, who stepped up. With the Dodgers down in the series two games to none, Buehler tossed seven shutout innings. He allowed just two runs and no walks, with seven strikeouts. It was the type of performance that puts a team back into a series on the back of one man.
Until it didn’t.
When Jackie Bradley Jr. swatted a long fly ball into the right field seats in the bottom of the eighth inning, Buehler’s hard work was all for naught. The Red Sox had knotted up the score at 1-1 apiece, eventually sending the game to 13 innings, when an Eduardo Nuñez single, followed by a throwing error, gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead, one they would not replenish.
But a Yasiel Puig infield single in the bottom of the 13th, coupled with a throwing error by Ian Kinsler, tied it up once again.
Five innings and a record for longest World Series game in MLB history later, Max Muncy ended the night with a walk-off home run to left-center field. The Dodgers won, 3-2, and climbed back into the series, now down only 2-1.
But with the craziness by which the game concluded, Buehler’s gem seemed to lose the attention that it so deserved.
Buehler was the youngest Dodgers starting pitcher to start a World Series game since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981, and he became the youngest Dodgers starting pitcher to throw seven shutout innings in a World Series game since Johnny Podres in 1955.
Buehler became just the third pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw seven shutout innings with two or fewer hits and no walks in a World Series game, joining Roger Clemens (2000 World Series Game Two) and Don Larsen (1956 Game Five).
This is an outing that will go down in history, one that will be remembered even through the test of time.
Buehler dominated the Red Sox’ hitters from start to finish. He was amped up; his hardest fastball was clocked at 100.1 mph, a season-high.
He had an excellent command of the strike zone and became sharper as the night went on. It took him 53 pitches to record his first seven outs and just 19 to record his last seven. His confidence grew as the evening turned to night, shutting down the best offense in baseball.
Interestingly enough, Buehler threw just nine sliders over his 108 pitches — or just 8.3 percent. This is far from his 16.5 percent frequency during the regular season. As Patrick Brennan discussed before Buehler’s start (which feels like a year ago), Buehler’s slider, his best pitch, played right into the Red Sox’ strength as an offense. He focused more on the cutter tonight (24 percent tonight versus 6.5 percent in the regular season). It worked, accounting for 6 of his 15 balls in play, all of which were turned into outs.
By championship win probability added (cWPA), Buehler alone added 9.5 percentage points to the Dodgers’ odds of winning the World Series, the second-highest of any player (behind Muncy) on either team. It’s just unfortunate that his only run of support came in the bottom of the third on a Joc Pederson solo home run.
If that wasn’t enough, Buehler could have also given the Dodgers a rest advantage for the remainder of the series. Because the game went to 18 innings, the Red Sox were forced to pitch Nathan Eovaldi — originally supposed to be their Game Four starter — in the twelfth. He pitched six innings. Now, it appears that Drew Pomeranz, who has not pitched since September 30th, will get the nod. That appears to be a huge advantage in Game Four. A win would tie up the series.
Coming into the night, Buehler had made three starts this postseason already, looking better in each successive one. In Game Seven of the NLCS, Buehler got the start for the Dodgers, allowing just one run over 4 2⁄3 innings as the Dodgers went on to win 5-1. After his stellar performance tonight, he now has a 3.80 ERA with 29 strikeouts to just 4 walks over 23 2⁄3 innings pitched this postseason.
While those numbers may seem solid, Buehler’s regular season numbers were actually even better. Over 24 appearances, 23 of which were starts, Buehler posted a 2.62 ERA with 151 strikeouts to 37 walks in 137 1⁄3 innings pitched. Buehler’s .247 wOBA against this season ranked fourth in baseball with a minimum 500 batters faced, above the likes of Aaron Nola, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and others.
If it wasn’t for the incredible performances from both Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto, Buehler would probably be a lock to win National League Rookie of the Year.
He’ll just have to settle for World Series ace.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.