ARLINGTON, Texas – More was not merrier for Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went with an opener against the team that invented the concept, sending Tony Gonsolin to start Game 2 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays as the first of seven pitchers -- one shy of the record for a nine-inning Series game.
By the end of the Dodgers’ 6-4 defeat Wednesday night, which evened the Series at one game apiece, it appeared the Dodgers are down to essentially a two-man rotation of Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw.
Coming off games on seven straight days against Atlanta in the NL Championship Series under this year's unique postseason schedule, with just Monday's off-day, Roberts felt he had no rested alternative.
“We didn’t have anybody that was on regular,” he explained.
Seems like a throwback to the Boston Braves of Spahn and Sain and pray for rain, as Gerald V. Hern of the Boston Post poetically memorialized the pitching tandem of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain in 1948.
Of the 125 innings pitched by the Dodgers in the postseason, Buehler is 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings and Kershaw is 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings, a combined a 2.45 ERA . The rest of the staff is 6-3 with a 4.11 ERA.
Gonsolin lasted just four outs, struggling with his slider and leaving with a 1-0 deficit after allowing a home run to his second batter, Brandon Lowe.
Dylan Floro (four outs) and Victor Gonzalez (three outs) followed with scoreless ball, but the Rays built a 5-0 lead off Dustin May, who gave up Joey Wendle’s two-run double in the fourth and Lowe’s two-run homer on an 0-2 curveball in the fifth. Joe Kelly allowed Wendle’s sacrifice fly in the sixth.
Alex Wood (six outs) and Jake McGee (three) finished with shutout relief, but the damage yielded by the earlier parade of pitchers was too much to overcome.
Gonsolin has a 9.82 postseason ERA, allowing eight runs in 7 1/3 innings, and May a 5.00 ERA, giving up five runs in nine innings.
“I still trust them. I still believe them, and they've just got to make pitches," Roberts said. “They’re still going to need to get big outs for us.”
Gonsolin didn’t pitch between Sept. 26 and Oct. 13, when he started against Atlanta and gave up five runs over 4 1/3 innings in the 8-7 Game 2 loss. He followed May in the second inning of Game 7 on Sunday and allowed a pair of runs, a homer run to his first batter, Dansby Swanson, and an RBI single to Austin Riley.
“I want the ball. I want to go out there and give our team a chance to win every time I go out and pitch,” he said. “It's been a learning experience for me to do new things, starting or whatever and throwing within three days or whatever. ... I can definitely take trying to maintain my sharpness in between outings, not trying to have all my stuff show up on day five or whenever my start day is."
Known for famous starting pitchers like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, the Dodgers would not seem like a team primed to adapt to the opener concept pioneered by manager Kevin Cash and Rays in 2018.
Roberts gambled to keep Buehler and Kershaw fresh, just like he did in Game 7 of the NLCS when he held off using Kershaw and started May as an opener, who then combined with Gonsolin, Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol and Julio Urías for a three-hitter in a 4-3 win.
Buehler is scheduled to start Game 3 on Friday night on five days’ rest after beating Atlanta in Game 6 of the NLCS on Saturday, when he threw 89 pitches over six innings. He would be on track to start a Game 7 on normal rest or Game 6 on three days' rest.
Urías gets Game 4 on Saturday night, the first start for the 24-year-old left-hander since Game 3 vs. the Braves on Oct. 14 and the second since Sept. 17.
Kershaw is lined up for Game 5 on Sunday following his victory in the Series opener, when he threw 78 pitches over six innings.
“We feel great. We’ve got Walker going. We’ve got Julio going and then we’ve got Clayton,” Roberts said. “So you look at kind of where our relievers are set with the off day tomorrow, we’re in a great spot.”
Wood is an option for Game 7 if Buehler doesn't start then, but it would be Wood's first start since Sept. 18.
“The goal is not to go seven,'' Roberts said. ”But, Alex, this entire postseason he's pitched really well. And I just really like the way he attacked the zones. And so, he’ll get a couple of days off and then we’ll kind of reassess after that for him."
It remains to be seen whether this merry-go-round will be a fun ride for Roberts and the Dodgers.
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