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Dustin May can’t make Walker Buehler moment, but Dodgers win


In a little more than two hours, Dustin May would step onto the mound and attempt to save the Dodgers’ season. Dave Roberts, the Dodgers’ manager, stepped to a microphone and expressed his faith in his young pitcher.

May is 21. He had never started a postseason game, except for a one-inning stint as an opener. On Friday, as the Dodgers faced elimination, the team figured it would need him to go deep into the game.

“This,” Roberts said, “could be his Walker Buehler moment.”

Spoiler alert: It was not.

Spoiler alert: It did not matter.

The Dodgers shrugged off the conventional wisdom, at least for a night, and extended their 2020 season in their own way.

May covered the first two innings, and not well. The beleaguered bullpen covered seven innings, and very well. The Dodgers spotted the Atlanta Braves two runs and then roared back, with a 7-3 victory in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.

The Dodgers lived to play another day. If they win on Saturday, they will play Sunday for a spot in the World Series.

Buehler starts for the Dodgers on Saturday. For the Dodgers, it would be a perfect day for him to have another Walker Buehler moment.

It was Buehler, not Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 1 of the Dodgers’ only postseason series last season. He threw six scoreless innings against the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals.

And it was Buehler, not Kershaw, who started Game 1 in each of the three rounds of this year’s playoffs. Buehler is 2-0, with a 2.77 earned-run average.

Big Game Buehler?

“I don’t know if there’s anything specific about me,” he said. “I think I’ve learned some kind of cliche techniques of how to take some breaths in certain spots and things like that, but at the end of the day it is about making pitches, and I’ve been fortunate enough to do that in some spots previously.”

Walker Buehler will start Game 6 of the NLCS for the Dodgers against the Atlanta Braves on Saturday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In 2018, the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies required a tiebreaker to decide the National League West. Buehler had started that season in the Pacific Coast League. The Dodgers gave him the ball for Game 163.

Buehler took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He left in the seventh, with the Dodgers leading 5-0, on their way to the World Series.

May still awaits his Buehler moment. If the Dodgers come back to win this series, May might even have his Buehler moment in the World Series.

On Friday, May did not have much of anything.

The Braves, remember, were the ones running a bullpen game.

Their starting pitcher was a reliever, A.J. Minter. He had not started a game since 2015, when he played for Texas A&M and he faced coach Darin Erstad and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Not to say it did not go well for Minter, but that was his last start before he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Before the game, Atlanta manager Brian Snitker tempered expectations for how long he thought Minter could pitch.

“Maybe one inning,” Snitker said. “We’ll see how he goes through one inning, and maybe he goes back out. We’ll kind of play it by ear and see what happens.

Snitker was not playing coy. Minter never had completed even two innings in his major league career.

So, of course, he pitched the game of his life: three innings, no runs, one hit, seven strikeouts.

By the time Minter was gone, May was long gone.

Atlanta Braves pitcher A.J. Minter delivers during the first inning of Game 5 of the NLCS on Friday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

May staggered through two innings, with unusually low use of his sinker, unusually high use of his curve, and unusually shaky command. He faced 11 batters, giving up three hits, two walks and two runs.

In Game 1 of this series, May worked in relief of Buehler, getting five outs on 21 pitches. On Friday, he got six outs on 55 pitches.

The Dodgers had to run a bullpen game, not the first choice of a team that believed its biggest advantage in this series was the depth of its starting rotation.

The ERA of the Dodgers’ bullpen over the first four games of the series was a high-flying 7.47. The bullpen gave up one run in

The ERA of the Dodgers’ bullpen in Game 5: 1.29.

Joe Kelly, Blake Treinen, Pedro Baez, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol and (surprise) Kenley Jansen combined to give up one run and four hits over seven innings, holding down the Braves while Corey Seager and Will Smith roughed up the Braves’ bullpen with home runs.

It was not May’s day. But, for the Dodgers, it was not mayday. Game 6, dead ahead.

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