by Rowan Kavner
The Dodgers will turn to a young starter pitching in his second Major League season in a crucial October spot. If it sounds at least vaguely familiar, it is.
Manager Dave Roberts said he believes in “the confidence and the stuff” of 23-year-old Dustin May, who will start Friday’s must-win Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, much like he believed in Walker Buehler with the division on the line two years ago.
“This could be his Walker Buehler moment,” Roberts said. “In Game 163, with what Walker did a few years ago, just doing that and coming out of it like he did, this could be that defining moment for Dustin.”
In 2018, that Buehler start was effectively the second year pitcher’s first taste of a Major League playoff atmosphere. He had yet to pitch in a postseason game, but the Dodgers needed that tiebreaker win against the Rockies to clinch another division title. Buehler responded with 6 2/3 scoreless innings.
The hard-throwing right-hander built a penchant for performing in the spotlight, and it began with that start.
“I don’t know if there’s anything specific about me,” Buehler said. “I think I’ve learned some kind of cliché techniques on how to take some breaths in certain spots and things like that. But at the end of the day, it’s about making pitches. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that in some spots previously.”
He’s had the occasional stumble, like when he allowed five runs in his first real postseason start. But he’s remembered mostly for his gems, like when he tossed seven scoreless innings in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.
It was not always that way for Buehler.
At Vanderbilt, his Commodores won the 2014 College World Series. They won Game 1 of their series against Virginia, but Buehler allowed five runs in three innings in that game. A year later, Virginia answered back against Vanderbilt and Buehler, who allowed two runs in three innings in the deciding Game 3.
“I’ve kind of said it before, I think my successes and failures that I’d gone through in college — albeit it was college baseball, not the big leagues — but I had failed on some pretty big stages at that point in my career,” Buehler said. “Just believe that you can do it, I guess. I know it sounds cliché and that’s kind of not how I like to talk about it, but I think in this case learning from your failures and believing that because of that you can succeed is a huge deal.”
On the other side of the field Friday, Buehler will see his former Vanderbilt teammate Dansby Swanson. But Buehler won’t be pitching against Swanson’s Braves again until Game 6. And a Game 6 won’t happen without a win in Game 5, which will begin with May on the mound.
Buehler said he’ll have some nerves and anxiety Friday, even though he’s not pitching, because of how big a deal it is.
“That feeling, it’s an interesting deal,” Buehler said. “You learn to enjoy that and kind of crave it.”
He believes May will do the same. While Buehler said he doesn’t see a ton of similarities between his personality and May’s, he did say May’s self-confidence on the mound is a trait the two share.
“He pitched in the playoffs out of the bullpen for us last year,” Buehler said. “Obviously being his first year with us, I think was the first kind of thing where you’re like, ‘All right, he’s got it in him.’ To pitch the way he did down the stretch last year and then now kind of the versatility he’s shown, the ability to jump in out of the bullpen and be ready to make starts and succeed in both formats, I think is a huge deal.”
May, who pitched in two games out of the bullpen last postseason, has pitched in three games this playoffs without allowing a run. Two of those appearances were in relief, while one was in an opener role. He’s allowed one hit with six strikeouts and two walks in 4 2/3 innings so far this postseason.
Friday figures to be a longer start than the one scoreless inning he pitched in Game 3 of the National League Division Series, which came two days after he threw two scoreless innings in relief. Roberts said after a Game 4 defeat he has no hesitation going to May for Game 5 with the season on the line.
“Not at all,” Roberts said. “Those guys have thrown some young arms at us in big games. So, no, Dustin will be ready to go.”
And his teammates have faith he’ll get it done. Asked why that is, Justin Turner pointed out May’s social media handle.
“D_maydabeast,” Turner said. “That’s what he is. He doesn’t back down from big situations. He wants the ball. He wants to be out there.”
In a must-win Game 5, Dodgers feel confident in 23-year-old Dustin May was originally published in Dodger Insider on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.