ARLINGTON, Texas — Walker Buehler strutted off the mound Friday night as if this wasn't the World Series, as if 10 strikeouts in six overpowering innings was nothing, as if these kinds of dominant performances on his sport's grandest stage are routine.
They aren't for most pitchers, but most pitchers don't have the resume Buehler has produced in his young major league career. He is a big-game pitcher in every sense of the overused descriptor. He provided more evidence in the Los Angeles Dodgers' thorough 6-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 3 of the World Series at Globe Life Field.
The right-hander didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning and held the Rays to one run and three hits across six frames. He walked one and became the seventh pitcher in franchise history to compile double-digit strikeouts in a World Series game. He is the first pitcher in World Series history to record 10 strikeouts in six or fewer innings. By the end of the night, he had a 1.80 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 25 innings across five outings in these playoffs.
The 26-year-old Buehler got the ball in Game 3 two years after tossing seven scoreless innings in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series against the Boston Red Sox as a rookie. The Dodgers eventually won in 18 innings that night to avoid a 3-0 hole.
On Friday, the Dodgers, whose unwavering confidence after their Game 2 loss derived from the three hurlers scheduled to start the next three games, took a 2-1 series lead, moving within two wins of their first championship in more than three decades. Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Kenley Jansen, who gave up a home run to Randy Arozarena with two outs in the ninth, each logged an inning to close it out. Game 4 is scheduled for 5:08 p.m. PDT on Saturday.
The Dodgers' run-production portfolio, diversified in 2020 to avoid another October disappointment, supplied all the support Buehler needed. Justin Turner and Austin Barnes each slugged a solo home run. Barnes' homer came two innings after he executed a safety squeeze. Mookie Betts delivered two singles and stole two bases for the second time in the series. They tallied five two-out runs and have 50 in the postseason, breaking the previous playoff record of 46 set by the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
Charlie Morton, the only Ray with previous World Series experience, took the mound opposite Buehler. The last time he pitched this deep into October went poorly for the Dodgers. Morton allowed two runs in 10 1/3 innings in two games for the Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series. He closed out the Dodgers with four dominant innings in Game 7 at Dodger Stadium.
Three years later, the Dodgers had no trouble handling the 36-year-old right-hander. He was pulled with one out in the fourth inning after allowing five runs on seven hits. He threw 91 pitches. The five runs were the most he's surrendered since opening day.
Several hours before first pitch, Major League Baseball — citing low temperatures, wind chill, and a remote possibility of rain — announced the roof at Globe Life Field would be closed for the first time this postseason. The roof had been left opened for the first 12 playoff games at the ballpark, all of which included the Dodgers, even when the wind became an issue in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series.
Gusts were fluctuating at 6-15 mph at first pitch that night. Fly balls were deadened, dirt swirled into players' eyes, jerseys flapped in the wind. The league, however, had decided not to close the roof unless rain was a possibility to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 once fans were allowed for the NLCS. MLB's first indoor game with fans in 2020 instead came on a day when the United States set a record for new coronavirus cases with 80,000. The announced attendance was 11,447.
The Dodgers estimated flyballs travel approximately 10 feet farther with the roof opened. The effect was evident even in batting practice. Balls weren't carrying as far. Home runs would be more difficult to muster. Turner made it look easy.
Morton was up 1-2, one strike away from a clean first inning, when he tried sneaking a high fastball by the Dodgers' third baseman. It was a mistake. Turner belted the pitch 396 feet over the left-field wall to put Los Angeles on the board first. The solo blast was Turner's 11th career postseason home run, tying Duke Snider for most in franchise history. Snider accumulated his 11 only in World Series games.
The Dodgers added two more two-out runs in the third inning on Max Muncy's single. They scored their fourth run on Barnes' safety squeeze in the fourth inning. Betts delivered an RBI single for the Dodgers' fourth two-out run of the night.
Two innings later, Barnes cracked a 425-foot home run to become the 11th Dodger with a home run this postseason. But Barnes didn't start behind the plate over Will Smith, who was the designated hitter, for his offense. He was there for his pitch framing and ability to guide Buehler.
Buehler's final act came opposite Arozarena, the Rays' breakout star and best hitter, with a runner on first base. He completed it with a tight, 82-mph curveball just off the plate. Arozarena hacked and missed for strikeout No. 10 and Buehler's latest October gem was over.
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