Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler considered it a “Herculean thing” to take the ball on short rest for the second time in the National League Championship Series, but he ran into an Achilles’ heel in the form of Atlanta Braves outfielder Eddie Rosario on Saturday night.
Rosario, the clear-cut most valuable player of the series, spoiled Buehler’s night and the Dodgers’ season with a fourth-inning three-run homer that was the difference in Atlanta’s NL pennant-clinching 4-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS in Truist Park.
“Rosario is obviously on kind of a different planet right now in terms of how he’s swinging the bat,” Buehler said. “I thought I made some good pitches, and the one that went for the homer was a decent pitch, but it was elevated, and he got it out of there.”
The score was tied 1-1 entering the bottom of the fourth, and Buehler got two quick outs, striking out Joc Pederson with an 82-mph curve and getting Dansby Swanson to fly out to center field. He walked No. 8 hitter Travis d’Arnaud with a full-count slider off the plate.
Braves manager Brian Snitker sent the left-handed-hitting Ehire Adrianza up to bat for starting pitcher Ian Anderson, which seemed an odd move on two fronts.
Anderson looked strong through four innings, limiting the Dodgers to one run on three hits, striking out four and walking one, his pitch count at 66, and the Braves’ middle relief corps did not enter the series with the most stellar of reputations.
Braves pinch-hitters had been futile in the first five games of the NLCS, going 0 for 11 with six strikeouts, and Adrianza, who hit .247 with five homers and 28 RBIs in 109 games this season, didn’t pose too much of a threat.
But it was the Dodgers who were up Snit’s Creek.
Adrianza poked a broken-bat double into the right-field corner, his first hit in 22 days, to advance d’Arnaud to third.
Up stepped the left-handed-hitting Rosario, who had all but locked up MVP honors with a sizzling series that included a four-hit effort, including a walk-off RBI single, in the Braves’ 5-4 Game 2 victory and a four-hit, two-homer, four-RBI effort in a 9-2 Game 4 victory.
Dodgers left-hander Alex Vesia, who had thrown three scoreless innings with five strikeouts and no walks in four previous NLCS games, was warm in the bullpen, but manager Dave Roberts elected to stick with Buehler.
“I just felt right there, the way Walker was throwing, I expected him to keep going,” Roberts said. “And the stuff wasn’t compromised. There was a walk to d’Arnaud, then the broken-bat double, and I just felt that he had enough stuff to get through that and to keep going.”
Buehler jumped ahead of Rosario with two strikes, a 93.1-mph cut-fastball that Rosario swung through and a 93.3-mph cutter that Rosario fouled off. Both of the pitches were middle-in.
Rosario fouled off a middle-in, 93.1-mph cutter, took a 96-mph two-seam fastball for a ball, fouled off another middle-in, 92.4-mph cutter and a 95.9-mph fastball.
On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Buehler tried to come inside with another 94-mph cutter.
Rosario took a vicious swing at the pitch and sent a 105-mph laser over the right-field wall for a three-run homer and a 4-1 Braves lead, the ball hit so hard it caromed off a seat and back onto the field.
“Obviously that’s a pitch that Walker feels good with, but certainly, you can tell that Rosario was sped up,” Roberts said. “I don’t want to second-guess a sequence, but certainly, we could have done different things, and we didn’t.”
Buehler walked Freddie Freeman but struck out Ozzie Albies with a 96-mph fastball, his 77th and final pitch of the game. His final line: Four innings, seven hits, four earned runs, three walks, six strikeouts.
“It stinks because, you know, I think we have a really special clubhouse and a really special team, and it’s Game 6, an elimination game, you get the ball, you want to do better than that, and I just wasn’t,” Buehler said.
“So, it’s a hard pill to swallow. But, you know, congrats to the Atlanta Braves and the things they’ve done. They’ve obviously put together a good team and were able to beat us four out of six.”
The Braves bullpen was particularly stout — left-handers A.J. Minter and Tyler Matzek each threw two perfect innings with four strikeouts Saturday night — but it was Rosario who swung the series in favor of the Braves.
The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico hit .560 (14 for 25) with a 1.647 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, three homers and nine RBIs in the series.
“We just couldn’t figure him out,” Roberts said. “He beat us the other way. He beat us to the pull-side. He got hits off lefties, off righties. We tried to spin him. We went hard. We just didn’t have an answer for him.”