ARLINGTON, Texas — Every start he makes, every time he dominates, Walker Buehler burnishes a resume that’s beginning to resemble those of the best postseason pitchers ever. All he did in Game 3 of the World Series on Friday was bolster his case.
Buehler became the first pitcher in World Series history to record double-digit strikeouts in six innings, and his Los Angeles Dodgers teammates used big bats and small ball to overwhelm the Tampa Bay Rays in a 6-2 victory that left the Dodgers two wins shy of their first championship since 1988.
The postseason bona fides of Buehler, a 26-year-old right-hander, were already impressive. His six-inning, three-hit, one-run, one-walk, 10-strikeout performance ranked among his most dominant yet.
Buehler said the experience helped his composure.
“I think the more you do these things the calmer you get,” Buehler said. “I don’t want to keep harping on it, but I enjoy doing this. And I feel good in these spots.”
The last pitcher as young as Buehler to strike out 10 in a World Series game was the Marlins‘ Josh Beckett in 2003. The only other Dodgers to punch out 10 and allow three or fewer hits in a World Series game were Sandy Koufax and Clayton Kershaw.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, asked how much he appreciated Buehler for a pitcher his age, said he was “kind of mired in it” and “living through it.”
“I haven’t put it all together and grasped or wrapped my head around all that he’s accomplished in this short period of time,” Roberts said. “Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and throughout history. He’s in some really elite company, and I’m just happy he’s wearing a Dodger uniform.”
Relying heavily on a four-seam fastball that sat at 97 mph, Buehler attacked all four quadrants of the strike zone with his typical equanimity: the slow, deliberate build of his windup into an explosive pitch that generated 12 swings and misses. His curveball, slider and cutter were on point, too, the first time all four pitches have worked this postseason after blisters hindered him in earlier rounds.
“The breaking ball — the shape to it — to get those guys off the fastball, I thought the curveball was really good early,” Roberts said. “He elevated when he needed to. They were in sync tonight. Austin [Barnes] did a hell of a job back there with Walker. It was fun to watch.”
Before the game, Rays manager Kevin Cash compared Buehler’s fastball to that of New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole — about as high a compliment as one can give for a four-seamer. With Tampa Bay swinging through five of them to strike out, Cash’s words were prescient, and Rays starter Charlie Morton couldn’t match him zero for zero.
In the fourth, with the Dodgers already ahead 3-0 after a first-inning Justin Turner home run and a pair of two-out runs in the third, the Dodgers went back to their Game 1 ethos and small-balled the Rays into submission. Two singles put runners on the corners, and up stepped Barnes, the No. 9 hitter. He laid down a run-scoring safety squeeze, the first RBI sacrifice bunt in a dozen World Series. Mookie Betts followed with an RBI single and stole second base, and the Dodgers’ lead grew to 5-0.
Buehler allowed doubles in the fifth to Manuel Margot and Willy Adames, yielding his one run on the night, though Barnes answered with a two-out, two-strike home run in the sixth. He became the first player in a World Series game since the Yankees’ Hector Lopez in 1961 to record a sacrifice bunt and homer. Before the home run, Barnes had gone hitless in his previous 22 World Series at-bats.
The Dodgers scored five runs with two outs and two strikes, tied for the most in a World Series game this century, and reinforced the difference between their offense and a Rays group whose one-dimensionality this postseason served them well, but hasn’t been effective in the World Series.
Buehler cruised in his final inning, striking out Mike Zunino, Brandon Lowe and Randy Arozarena swinging to reach double digits — the first 10-strikeout game of his postseason career. It extended his record streak of six-plus-strikeout games in the playoffs to 11. He had broken the record, which he shared with Randy Johnson, in his last start when he threw six shutout innings in a season-saving Game 6 victory against Atlanta in the National League Championship Series.
“The fastball command was incredible,” Turner said. “And just the way he pitches and attacks and how aggressive he is going right at guys. He’ll mix in a cutter or a slider, or a curveball to lefties. But he pitches with his fastball. And he’s aggressive with it. And it is what it is. You know he’s going to throw it, and he says hit it if you can, and he got a lot of swings and misses tonight.”
Roberts pulled Buehler after 93 pitches, handing over the game to relievers Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol, who threw scoreless innings. Closer Kenley Jansen, who was throwing harder than he has all postseason, allowed a ninth-inning solo home run to Arozarena, his eighth of the playoffs, which tied the previous record set by Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz.