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Dodgers' three first-inning runs stand up in win over Braves to force NLCS Game 7

Los Angeles Times — By Jorge Castillo Los Angeles Times

Oct. 17-- ARLINGTON, Texas-Walker Buehler, the young ace the Los Angeles Dodgers once again needed when the stakes were highest, was in a messy predicament in the second inning of the Dodgers' 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday.

Three Atlanta Braves had delivered consecutive singles to load the bases with no outs. The bottom third of Atlanta's lineup was next. The Dodgers' early three-run lead was hanging by a thread. In response, Buehler vaulted to another level.

The right-hander fired three fastballs past Austin Riley for a strikeout. Then he fired six more to Nick Markakis. The sixth traveled 100 mph. Markakis kept his bat on his shoulder for strike three. Cristian Pache, a 21-year-old rookie, stood between Buehler and a clean escape.

Before the duel, catcher Austin Barnes walked to Buehler to solidify a plan. It was time to mix the pattern up. Buehler peppered the zone with a 99-mph for strike one, but he then went with a 94-mph cutter that Pache fouled off. Then Pache fouled back a 98-mph fastball. Finally, Buehler let off the gas. He spun a slider. Pache hit a groundball to shortstop Corey Seager, who made a backhanded stop for the third out.

Buehler pounded his blue glove. "Let's go!" he yelled on his walk back to the dugout. It was the Braves' best chance to derail Buehler and they failed. They ended up scoring just one run-against Blake Treinen in the seventh inning.

Kenley Jansen, pitching for the second straight day, earned the save with a one, two, three ninth inning as the Dodgers won their second straight game to even the series at three and force a Game 7 on Sunday at Globe Life field.

Kike Hernandez, the Dodgers' starting second baseman Saturday, is in his sixth season with the team. Never, he said, had he seen the team as energetic for a day game as it was Saturday morning. There was some screaming. There was some music. There was some dancing, he reported, mostly from him. Coffee, and nothing more, caffeinated the vigor.

"Not a lot of Red Bulls first," Hernandez said. "I think it's the healthy choice to eat breakfast before your first Red Bull of the day."

The energy spilled into the first inning. Batting second, Corey Seager clubbed a curveball for his third home run in four at-bats going back to Game 5. Justin Turner made it back-to-back home runs with a blast to center field. Cody Bellinger added an RBI single to complete the three-run outburst.

The Dodgers were prepared for a steady diet of curveballs from starter Max Fried. The left-hander induced five whiffs in Game 1. The Dodgers swung at 12 curveballs in Game 6 and missed once.

Atlanta had a reliever warming in the bullpen in the first inning, but Fried escaped and righted the ship. The Harvard-Westlake High graduate held the Dodgers scoreless over the next five innings until his departure. He surrendered eight hits, walked four, and struck out five.

Buehler, however, was better.

Atlanta managed to create traffic on the basepaths in Buehler's six scoreless innings, but couldn't sustain a rally. Buehler worked around seven hits. He issued five walks in his first two playoff starts, including a career-high five in Game 1 of this series, but didn't walk a batter Saturday.

Mookie Betts helped his pitcher with another highlight play in right field. After going low to snag a sinking line drive in Game 5, Betts went high, jumping up against the wall to rob Marcell Ozuna of extra bases and the Braves from a second run.

It was the first time Buehler completed six innings since Aug. 21, when the blisters on his index and middle fingers that hindered him for over the next six weeks first emerged. The television broadcast Saturday revealed Buehler had been using Stan's Rodeo Rub, an ointment concocted by a former Dodgers trainer, to treat the blisters. The remedy appeared to have made a difference in Game 6.

The outing was just the latest on Buehler's growing list of dynamite performances in significant games. Buehler has started three elimination games, a division-deciding Game 163, and a World Series game in his career. In those five starts, he's allowed two runs in 31 innings with 30 strikeouts and six walks. On Saturday, he kept the Dodgers afloat.


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