LOS ANGELES – What a day for Walker Buehler. The rookie with the preternatural calm pitched the Los Angeles Dodgers to a record sixth consecutive NL West title.
Buehler tossed one-hit ball into the seventh inning, and Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy launched two-run homers to beat the Colorado Rockies 5-2 in a tiebreaker on Monday.
“It’s a normal baseball game. It’s hyped up, there’s an adrenaline, but you got to execute,” Buehler said. “That’s all you can do.”
The defending NL champion Dodgers became the first major league team to win six straight division crowns since the Yankees captured nine AL East titles in a row from 1998-2006.
Los Angeles now hosts Atlanta in the best-of-five NL Division Series beginning Thursday.
“We’re going to beat Atlanta,” a shirtless Yasiel Puig proclaimed, rivulets of beer and champagne down his front and back. “No matter who’s coming, we’re going to the World Series and bring the 2018 championship here.”
Denied their first division title in franchise history, the Rockies head to Wrigley Field to play the Chicago Cubs in the NL wild-card game on Tuesday night.
“Our guys will put it in the rearview for sure,” Colorado manager Bud Black said of the loss. “The resiliency of this group has been awesome all year.”
For Los Angeles, Kenta Maeda got two outs in the eighth inning, coming on with one out and a runner on first, and retired the two batters he faced on a groundout and strikeout.
“It was a really tough race this year,” Maeda said.
“It’s been such a good experience to be able to clinch a title this way in the very, very end. Being able to win despite having to fight through, this is a lesson we’ll carry over into the postseason.”.
Pitching in 32.2 C heat, Buehler was oh-so-cool in closing out a regular season that ended with Game 163 after both teams had identical records of 91-71.
The soft-spoken 24-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky, has been so steady of late that manager Dave Roberts had no qualms about giving Buehler the ball for the crucial game that helped decide the Dodgers’ postseason fate.
“He’s ready for this moment,” Roberts said, “and he responded.”
Buehler’s only slip-up came on the field after the game when he let loose with an inadvertent expletive, having been handed the mic after fans demanded to hear from him. He clasped his hand to his mouth and apologized.
No need to be sorry, though, after that performance.
Buehler settled in quickly, retiring his first six batters in a row, and never did allow a run.
“Walker is a tremendous talent,” Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said. “His competitiveness is off-the-charts, his ability is off-the-charts.”
Buehler (8-5) had his no-hit bid broken up in the sixth on Charlie Blackmon’s single, one of his two hits for the Rockies.
Buehler even helped himself offensively, hitting a single in the sixth for his first professional RBI and extending the Dodgers’ lead to 5-0.
After giving up a two-out walk to Carlos Gonzalez in the seventh, Buehler exited to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 47,816. He waved his right hand and quickly strode to the dugout as fans chanted his last name. The right-hander struck out three and walked three.
The Rockies didn’t advance a runner past second base until the ninth when Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story homered back-to-back off closer Kenley Jansen.
Jansen then retired the next three batters in a row.
Los Angeles’ two homers extended its franchise and NL-leading total to 235 on the season.
Bellinger got the Dodgers on the board with his 25th homer in the fourth, a two-out shot to left that made it 2-0. Muncy struck out leading off but was safe at first on a passed ball by catcher Tony Wolters. After Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal struck out, Bellinger connected on a 1-0 pitch from German Marquez (14-11).
Joc Pederson doubled to deep right-center leading off the fifth. One out later, Muncy hit his 35th homer to left-center, extending the lead to 4-0 and chasing Marquez.
Brewers 3, Cubs 1
In Chicago, Christian Yelich collected three more hits as Milwaukee won its first NL Central title since 2011, beating the Cubs in a tiebreaker game.
The silky-smooth slugger stalled in his bid for the league’s first Triple Crown in decades, but he starred once again as the Brew Crew captured the biggest prize of the day.
“I know how hard it is to get to this point and I’m proud to be a part of this group,” Yelich said as Milwaukee’s boozy party swirled around him, filling every inch of the cramped visitors’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field.
Lorenzo Cain hit a go-ahead single in the eighth inning to help Milwaukee to its eighth straight win and home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. The Brewers will host the wild-card winner starting Thursday in the best-of-five Division Series.
Anthony Rizzo homered for Chicago’s lone run.
Yelich singled home Milwaukee’s first run and won the NL batting title with a .326 average. He had 110 RBIs, one behind the Cubs’ Javier Baez, and finished with 36 home runs, two shy of Colorado’s Nolan Arenado. The tiebreakers were game 163 of the regular season and Arenado’s homer counted in the totals.
Joe Medwick in 1937 was the last NL player to win the Triple Crown. Miguel Cabrera did it for Detroit in 2012.