June 17, 2014
Showcasing a dazzling arsenal of pitches, Walker Buehler completely silenced UC Irvine's bats Monday at the most crucial time.
In doing so, Buehler and the Commodores are now in the driver's seat to reach the championship series of the College World Series after a 6-4 win over the Anteaters.
But Vanderbilt's chances of advancing did not look all that promising in the early going.
Starting pitcher Tyler Beede battled control trouble, and Vanderbilt was faced with an early deficit. To prevent the margin from growing any larger, Vanderbilt Head Coach Tim Corbin wasted little time turning to the bullpen for relief.
Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Corbin knew it was time to make a move. He pulled his first-round selection after Beede hit his third batter to put runners on first and second with two outs.
"We needed to change the pace of the game at that point," Corbin said. "And you might let a guy like that go a little bit longer, but it was a point in the game where we were losing by two and wanted to keep the game right there."
With a smorgasbord of electric arms to choose from, Corbin opted to go all in with a somewhat surprising move of tabbing starter Walker Buehler.
It was a bit of a gamble at the time with Vanderbilt facing a two-run deficit and possibly staring at a game on Wednesday without the services of Buehler, who most expected would start that game. The stakes were high, but Corbin did not hesitate in making the decision.
The move paid off in a big way, as Buehler did not allow a hit in relief and watched from the dugout as the Commodores clawed their way back into the lead with three runs in the fifth inning.
"I think the game turned around when Walker came in," Corbin remarked. "There was a momentum change, and he pounded the strike zone from the minute he got in there until the minute the game finished. Very impressive. Very mature approach for the game."
The sophomore worked the final 5-1/3 innings with his only blemishes being two walks, which were offset by seven strikeouts. It was a dazzling performance that almost seemed unfair at times to Anteater hitters, who were left waving at air or frozen like statues in the box.
A mid-week starter during the season, Buehler was not entirely out of his element coming from the bullpen. Twice before during the season, he has come out of the pen, allowing just one run in six innings of work. Even though it was limited work, the experience was enough to make Buehler comfortable Monday.
"Coach (Scott) Brown and Coach Corbin told me to be ready, but you expect your guys to go out and perform as well as they can, and I was happy I got to pick (Beede) up," Buehler said of his relief outing. "He was great for us all year. But I think I was ready. And I think doing that a couple times throughout the year also helps. You're more comfortable doing it."
Monday's performance only added to what has been a breakout season for Buehler. He has been one of Vanderbilt's most reliable pitchers throughout the season. Against UC Irvine, he earned his team-best 12 wins, while dropping his ERA to 2.27.
Buehler retired the first nine batters he faced before issuing a two-out walk in the seventh inning. During a stretch in the sixth and seventh innings, Buehler struck out four batters in a row. In the 19 batters he faced, just twice did a ball reach the outfield grass. The first and last batters he faced Monday flew out.
"We got out everythinged," UC Irvine Head Coach Mike Gillespie said. "I think - particularly once Buehler came into the game, he pitched like a first rounder waiting to happen. If Taylor Sparks (UC Irvine third baseman) is not going to be using me as his agent, I'm going to be Buehler's agent."
On a team with a stable of dominant arms, Buehler had his number called at the most important juncture of this College World Series, and he delivered in the biggest of ways.