If nobody sees Walker Buehler throw enough heavy baseballs to scatter the Tampa Bay Rays like tenpins, does it still count?
The Dodgers think so. They lead this World Series 2-1, thanks to a 6-2 Game 3 win on Friday that continued Buehler’s blossoming into a legend of the fall.
It wasn’t just him. Justin Turner took Charlie Morton deep in the first inning, then snatched Mike Zunino’s bullet and turned it into a double play in the third inning. Zunino was the ninth batter to face Buehler. It took the 14th, Manny Margot, to get Tampa Bay’s first hit.
In his first tour of Tampa Bay’s lineup, Buehler unleashed 21 pitches of 97 mph or faster. He struck out four of the first five Rays, and he got to a three-ball count only twice all night. Eight Rays were subjected to an 0-and-2 count, which is jail against Buehler.
It was pure, old-fashioned powerball, the kind that No. 1 pitchers produce when the leaves are turning and the sweaters come out.
But since it’s 2020, Buehler left after the sixth inning, after his 10th strikeout.
“You want an organization that looks after you like that,” he said. “There are times when you want to keep going and going and going, but I understand what they’re doing.”
“I felt that he’d given us all he needed to give,” Manager Dave Roberts said.
Buehler will bring a full tank to Game 7 next Wednesday, just in case the Rays feel like getting that far.
He is 3-1 in 12 playoff starts with a 2.34 ERA and 83 strikeouts as opposed to 22 walks.
“Not many pitchers are able to thrive in those situations,” Roberts said. “He’s in rare company already.”
“The more you do these things, the calmer you get,” he said. “I feel good in these spots.” Told that catcher Austin Barnes said it was the best version of Buehler that he’d ever caught, Buehler simply replied, “It’s good to hear that.”
For those who remember skipping school to watch the World Series, or watching a particularly understanding teacher hook up a TV in the classroom, these are disorienting times.
The schools are empty in many places, and yet the World Series is almost incognito. The Dodgers and Rays set a record for solitude in Game 1, at least as long as ratings were recorded, then broke that record in Game 2.
During that game, the Fox broadcast showed Carlton Fisk guiding his 1975 home run fair at the end of Game 6. Play-by-play man Joe Buck noted that 41 million people watched that game, as late as it was. Then he uttered a resigned, “Yeah,” and left it hanging.
Game One this week drew 9.1 million viewers. Game 2 drew 8.95 million. Game 1 in 2018, featuring L.A. and Boston, drew 13.8 million, which was considered disappointing.
It makes you wonder about the point of prime time. The Pirates and Orioles played the first night World Series game in 1971. The viewership was less than half of what the teams drew in Game 5 the next afternoon (38.8 million).
All sports except the NFL are taking a beating. The baseball slump does puncture the argument of those who blame the NBA’s troubles on “How Many More” and “Black Lives Matter” slogans on the uniforms. Maybe they consider “Snell,” “Turner” and “Seager” to be equally inflammatory.
Or maybe the public just isn’t buying the legitimacy of a World Series that followed a 60-game eclair of a regular-season, even though it matches the top seeds of both leagues. The most ignored World Series game before this year was a rain-delayed marathon between the Phillies and Tampa Bay 12 years ago. The Rays are like the friend that you’d really like if you got to know him better. They are appealing and talented, but they beg for personal contact in their own market.
But of the six highest-rated sports events in the coronavirus era that were not NFL games, three were baseball playoff games.
Sports TV is also suffering because network TV is suffering. The audience is down 30 percent overall.
There’s also the distinct possibility that our times are too special to tolerate escapism right now, that there’s no use pushing aside the extraordinariness of 2020. When the pandemic has taken away the equivalent of 74 9/11 attacks, and when evictions and unemployment are raging, and when we are besieged by the most bitter Presidential election since at least the 19th century, it’s difficult to get emotionally involved in pitch counts.
With Walker Buehler on the scene Friday, recounts weren’t necessary.