Walker Buehler lives for the bright lights and big stage of October baseball. The Dodgers right-hander has already built an impressive postseason resume in four-plus seasons, going 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 career playoff starts.
He won his World Series start against Tampa Bay and threw six shutout innings in a must-win Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against Atlanta last October. He beat Colorado in a one-game playoff for the NL West title in 2018 and threw seven shutout innings in a 2018 World Series start against Boston.
But the 26-year-old’s biggest strides in the eyes of veteran third baseman Justin Turner have come on lower-key nights like Saturday, when Buehler dominated the worst team in baseball, blanking Arizona for six innings of a game they won 22-1. The Dodgers hit eight home runs, tying a franchise record.
There was nothing at stake, nothing to fuel any extra motivation. Buehler punched in at 7:10 p.m. and clocked out at 9:20 p.m. He gave up three hits, struck out seven and walked two in a workmanlike effort to improve to 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 18 starts. He has completed six innings or more in 17 of those games.
“Walker has always been a big-game pitcher, right? We’ve seen it year in and year out in the postseason and Game 163, him stepping up, taking the ball and getting big outs for us,” Turner said. “But I think where I’ve seen him grow the most is in the not-big game.
“Taking the ball and competing and being efficient and getting deeper into games … that’s something he’s taken a lot of pride in and really worked hard on, and I think you see that this year.”
Buehler, added to the NL All-Star team earlier Saturday, was backed by a robust offense that produced a season high for runs and hits.
The Dodgers, who lost four of their previous five games, took out a week’s worth of frustration on Arizona left-hander Caleb Smith, putting up a five-spot in the first and four more in the second.
Max Muncy hit a two-run double to right in the first. Cody Bellinger, who hit .081 (three for 37) in his last 11 games, hit a towering two-run homer to right, and AJ Pollock followed with a homer to left for a 5-0 lead.
Turner, who was also added to the NL All-Star team Saturday, drove his first career grand slam to left for a 9-0 lead in the second.
The Dodgers tacked on seven more in the seventh on Mookie Betts’ fifth career grand slam — the major league-leading ninth slam this season for the Dodgers — Zach McKinstry’s two-run homer and Albert Pujols’ solo shot, career homer No. 674 for the slugger.
Pollock added a solo homer in the eighth to spark a six-run rally that included Gavin Lux’s three-run triple and Pujols’ two-run homer — career No. 675 — off outfielder-turned-pitcher Josh Reddick.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.