LOS ANGELES — The playoff hopes and dreams of a baseball organization in the second largest metropolis in America now rest largely on the shoulders of one talented and tenacious 24-year-old rookie.
No pressure, young buck.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Red Sox made their way out to California on Thursday, the World Series receiving a much-needed burst of warmth and sunshine.
Flattened in Boston in Games 1 and 2, the Dodgers now turn to first-year phenom Walker Buehler as their Game 3 starter, hoping he can begin to dig his club out of a 2-0 series deficit that has Red Sox fans making preemptive plans for a duck boat celebration.
“We’ve got to find a way to win a baseball game,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said on Wednesday after his team’s 4-2 loss in Game 2 at Fenway Park.
Buehler may just represent LA’s best chance at notching that elusive win. The righthander represents a change of pace from what the Red Sox saw in two contests at Fenway.
Buehler’s fastball sits around 97 miles per hour, zippier than the heaters featured by Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu. It’s his main swing-and-miss pitch, and he threw it 42 percent of the time in 2018. With opposing hitters acting jumpy in anticipation of the fastball, Buehler beautifully deploys his curve, inducing a bunch of ground balls while keeping the offense honest.
As a starter, Buehler ranked fifth in the big leagues in ERA (2.31), third in opponents batting average (.185), third in hits per nine innings (5.94), and second in opponents OPS (.531). He finished the season with the lowest WHIP (0.92) among rookies with 20 or more starts since 1913.
Buehler only got better as the season progressed, going 4-3 with a 2.03 ERA in the second half. He then pitched Los Angeles to a division crown, starting Game 163 against the Rockies and allowing just one hit over 6⅔ innings.
Alex Cora has pushed all the right buttons in his own rookie campaign as Red Sox manager, but he’ll have a tough task in penning a lineup against Buehler. The youngster is almost as strong against lefties as he is against righties.
Though Buehler hasn’t looked quite as strong in his first three playoff appearances, going 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA, he’s improved in each start, allowing just one run in 4⅔ innings against the Brewers in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series on Saturday.
“To be in a hostile, really boisterous crowd in Milwaukee and for him to keep his composure and to execute pitches speaks a lot [of] him,” said Roberts. “It just shows a lot of moxie.”
Buehler was the only member of either World Series team not to watch Game 2. He flew back to Los Angeles a day early, boarding his flight approximately 30 minutes before first pitch and landing around a half-hour after the Red Sox wrapped up their victory.
“The playoff schedule can get a little funky,” Buehler said Thursday, “whether you have an extra day or a day less or two extra days and then go on regular [rest]. This being deep in the year, your arm and your body are in a spot where you can take a day that you normally wouldn’t and you’re going to be OK.”
Despite the Dodgers’ poor Game 2 result, Buehler was able to hold his emotions in check on the cross-country flight.
“I was pretty polite,” he said.
Roberts has plenty of experience to draw upon from his playoff run with the Red Sox in 2004. Boston faced an even larger deficit than the Dodgers are currently staring at, trailing, 3-0, in the AL Championship Series to the Yankees. The rest, of course, is history.
“I think it’s something where I have lived it and experienced being down in that situation and still coming back,” said Roberts. “And I think the big takeaway is you can’t win four games in one night. So just the focus-on-one-game-at-a-time mentality. I know it’s easier said than done. But that’s as simply as you can put it.”
Hill will go in Game 4
Roberts announced Milton native Rich Hill will start Game 4 for Los Angeles . . . Outfielder Joc Pederson, who began Games 1 and 2 on the bench, will bat in the leadoff spot against righthander Rick Porcello in Game 3 . . . Despite being 27-years old, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig moved into fourth place on the franchise’s all-time list for postseason hits with his RBI single in the fourth inning of Game 2, passing Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese. Puig’s 47 career playoff hits trail Steve Garvey (63), Bill Russell (57), and teammate Justin Turner (51) . . . The Dodgers chose not to hold a workout on Thursday.