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Dodgers’ first 3 innings strengthens NLCS Game 7 vs. Braves

Walker Buehler, the young ace that the Dodgers once again needed when the stakes were highest, was in a messy situation 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 without outs. The bottom third of Atlanta’s lineup was next. The Dodgers’ early three-run cord hung by a wire. In response, Buehler vaulted to another level.

The right-hander fired three fastballs past Austin Riley for a strike. Then he fired six more to Nick Markakis. The sixth traveled 1

00 mph. Markakis held his bat on his shoulder until strike three. Cristian Pache, a 21-year-old rookie, stood between Buehler and a pure escape.

Before the duel, catcher Austin Barnes went to Buehler to bolster a plan. It was time to mix the pattern up. Buehler peppered the zone with a 99-mph to beat one, but he then went with a 94-mph cutter, which Pache contaminated. Then Pache rejected a fastball of 98 mph. Finally, Buehler let go of the gas. He turned a slider. Pache hit a ground ball to stop Corey Seager, who made a backhanded stop for third out.

Buehler knocked on his blue glove. “Let’s go!” he shouted on his turn back to the excavation. It was the Braves’ best chance to derail Buehler, and they failed. They ended up scoring only one race – 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 level the series at three and force a game 7 Sunday at Globe Life Field.

Dodgers right field Mookie Betts makes a spectacular leaping catch in the fifth inning of NLCS Game 6 on Saturday.

Kiké Hernández, the Dodgers starting second baseman on Saturday, is in his sixth season with the team. Never, he said, had he seen the team so energetically for a day game as it was Saturday morning. Something screamed. There was some music. There was some dancing, he reported, mostly from him. Coffee and nothing more decaffeinated energy.

“Not many Red Bulls at first,” Hernández said. “I think it’s the healthy choice to have breakfast before your first Red Bull of the day.”

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

The Dodgers were prepared for a constant diet of Max Fried basket balls. The left-hander induced five whips in game 1. The Dodgers swung on 12 basket balls in game 6 and missed once.

Atlanta had a relief warm-up in the bullpen in the first inning, but Fried escaped and corrected the ship. The Harvard-Westlake High candidate kept the Dodgers scoreless for the next five innings until his departure. He surrendered eight hits, went four and hit five.

Buehler, however, was better.

Dodgers right field Mookie Betts jumps to catch a ball hit by Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna.

Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts jumps to catch a ball hit by Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna during the fifth inning.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Atlanta managed to create traffic on the base trails in Buehler’s six pointless innings, but could not sustain a rally. Buehler worked about seven hits. He issued five walks in his first two playoff starts, including a career-high five in Game 1 of this series, but did not go a butter on Saturday.

Mookie Betts helped his pitcher with another highlight in the right field in fiveinning. After going low to catch a sinking line drive in Game 5, Betts went high and jumped against the wall to dissuade Marcell Ozuna from extra bases and the Braves from another run.

It was the first time Buehler had completed six innings since Aug. 21, when the blisters on his index finger and middle fingers that prevented him for the next six weeks first appeared. The television broadcast on Saturday revealed that Buehler had used Stan’s Rodeo Rub, an ointment devised by a former Dodgers coach, to treat the blisters. The remedy seemed to have made a difference in Game 6.

The excursion was just the latest on Buehler’s growing list of dynamic performances in key games. Buehler has started three elimination matches, a division-deciding game 163 and a World Series game in his career. In those five starts, he has given two runs in 31 innings with 30 strikeouts and six times. On Saturday, he kept the Dodgers afloat.

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