The announcement comes at 11:40 a.m. Tuesday: Walker Buehler will begin Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants on three days’ rest for the first time in his major league career.
With the Dodgers facing elimination it was the obvious choice. And yet it was not given to an organization that deliberately handles the pitcher with caution, assessing the risk at every turn.
Hours later came the other relatively out-of-character move: Gavin Lux would start in center field. Lux has been an outfielder for five full weeks. The last time he was seen at center field, his face was the first to hit the wall during the final week of the season. He was still a beginner learning the basics.
But the Dodgers were desperate for offense after being shot out twice in four postseason games, and the Lux supplied another dangerous offensive weapon. The potential reward was huge. Despair put at stake.
Two counts summarize the Dodgers’ state of mind on Tuesday. It was time to field the best of talent to beat the Giants. His weather depended on it. In the end, decisions took center stage in their 7–2 victory at Dodger Stadium, setting up a do-or-die Game 5 between two capable foes.
One night after the Giants’ pitching and heavy winds combined, the Dodgers’ offense woke up. After 12/3 innings, the Dodgers chased down Anthony Descalafani for two for two and scored a run, forcing the Giants to use seven relievers to cover the remainder of the game. Mookie Bates scored a home run of two runs. Cody Bellinger recorded his first multihit game since August 25. Tree Turner collected two hits.
Buehler didn’t last long, but he held the Giants to one run on three hits in 41/3 innings, and the Dodgers bullpen closed the door to take the series back to Oracle Park for Game 5. The first pitch is scheduled for 6:07 pm on Thursday. Julio Urias will start for the Dodgers. Logan Webb will take the ball to San Francisco.
According to manager Dave Roberts, Buehler’s meager rest effort on Tuesday was rooted in talks after Saturday’s Game 2. In the Dodgers’ victory in San Francisco that night, the Uriahs made only 72 pitches in five innings. Buehler recognized the relatively light use meant that Urea would be fresh at regular rest for a deciding Game 5. Therefore, after the game, Buehler informed his bosses that he was ready to pitch in Game 3 on three days’ rest.
Buehler had never started on a short rest as a major leaguer and his start this season was more with four days of rest (20) than regular rest (13). The Dodgers refuse to push him that far in the past. She was a prized young arm. They were afraid to break it with the other capable options available. But this year marked a different stage in Buehler’s career. It is no longer about saving him for the future. He is now a top-tier ace with a 200-innings season on his resume. Tuesday’s decision punctuates that point.
Roberts stated that the Dodgers would not have selected Buehler to start the game if they had won Game 3. They could choose to start Tony Gonsolin or deploy a straight bullpen game. Facing elimination changed the equation. He determined that Buehler was the best option to keep his season afloat.
“That’s why aces are aces,” said Roberts. “Because they don’t run away from fights.”
It was a brawl between two rivals that raged on the same block throughout the summer. Tuesday was the 23rd meeting between the opponents this season. Buehler has debuted for the Dodgers in eight of them. The prevailing view is that the level of familiarity benefits the hitters. Buehler debunked that theory on Tuesday, but not for very long.
Before the game, Roberts admitted that Buehler’s strap would be shorter than usual. Its length has been extended to 13 outs. Roberts pulled the right-hander off his 71st pitch after running with pinch-hitter Steven Duggar, leaving two runners to base. They let out a cheer outside the field, which Kelly left behind to extinguish the fire.
Kelly initially ignited the flames by giving Tommy La Stella a single to load the base. Darin Roof then hit a groundball to second baseman Turner, who traded an out for the Giants’ first run, bringing left-hander Brandon Crawford to the plate with two outs.
The situation prompted Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior to surface for a conversation with Kelly. Crawford trailed 0 and 2 and couldn’t dig himself. He dropped third baseman Justin Turner off the field to stop the threat, leaving the two runners trapped.
The Dodgers wasted no time putting pressure on DeSclafani. It took him three batsmen to lead after Corey Seeger was singled out and Tree Turner flicked a first-pitch slider into right-center field for a double. The Dodgers failed to complete in nine innings on Tuesday: Seeger raced around from the first.
DeSclafani quickly surrendered another run in the second innings. The Lux took the lead with a single in the center making their first start of the playoffs. He went from first to third on Bellinger’s single before scoring on Chris Taylor’s sacrificial fly. Desclafani did not survive the innings. He was pulled after delivering a two-out single to Bates, which kept the runners on the corners. He took five outs with 28 pitches. Giants manager Gabe Kapler was managing the win.
Jose Alvarez propelled into third without any further damage and did not take the mound again. Kapler gave the ball to Kervin Castro in the third innings. He proceeded to walk two batsmen, with an out to Kapler to convince him for another pitching change. Jerlin Garcia made his debut with a seven-pitch walk from Lux before retiring the next two hitters to keep the Dodgers off the board. It felt like a defeat, but they just took a 2-0 lead.
The Giants’ luck ran out in the fourth innings. Buehler, later on, arrived at an error from Garcia. After two pitches, Bates hit a fastball to the wall on the other side.
The explosion probably ignited the last Dodger Stadium crowd this year. The Dodgers would have to win in San Francisco to play another game at home. He had to reach there first.