ARLINGTON, Texas — To Beckett, or not to Beckett?
That is the question hovering over the Dodgers as they try to end their 832-fortnight and odd days drought without a championship. They choose to not Beckett, instead calling upon rookie Tony Gonsolin to eliminate the pesky Rays in World Series Game 6 on Tuesday night at Globe Life Field.
To Beckett, as those who recall the 2003 World Series know, is to use your best starting pitching option on three days’ rest in Game 6 when owning a 3-2 edge (yes, it’s very specific). That’s what the Marlins, managed by the maverick Jack McKeon, did when they turned back to their Game 3 starter Josh Beckett, whose short-rested, five-hit shutout buried those Yankees and turned the 72-year-old McKeon into a South Florida folk hero.
Playing the 2020 Dodgers role of Beckett (who coincidentally finished his career as a Dodger) is Walker Buehler, who threw a six-inning gem to defeat the Rays in Game 3 Friday night. And who, instead of making his first career start on three days’ rest, will be ready to start Wednesday night’s Game 7 if necessary.
It’s a tough call. And it’s one that instantly becomes a huge part of this lively series’ storyline.
“You’re putting yourself in a situation where, after winning a game  to put him in a tougher situation, there’s already guaranteed a Game 7,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Monday, as both sides mostly rested (a few guys from both teams showed up to get in some work). “It just makes sense for Walker. He hasn’t done it. There’s a blister component that we’ve dealt with that it just brings back more into play without the extra day. So we thought it through.”
Let’s think it through out loud, shall we? No one will dispute that, in a vacuum, Buehler is a superior pitcher to Gonsolin, who took the loss in Game 2 when he allowed a run in 1 ¹/₃ innings as the Dodgers’ opener. Buehler’s complete lack of experience throwing on short rest shouldn’t automatically disqualify him from trying it now. After all, Yankees ace Gerrit Cole had never tried it until American League Division Series Game 5 against these Rays, and he performed very well, allowing only one run in 5 ¹/₃ innings.
Now, the blister, an ongoing Buehler issue this fall, that’s no small thing. That very well could be the determining factor.
If Gonsolin — who, Roberts said, will go as a traditional starter, not an opener — does his job, then no harm, no foul, start another party in Los Angeles, where the great LeBron James’ Lakers just captured the NBA championship earlier this month. If Gonsolin falters while his Rays counterpart, Blake Snell, shoves but Buehler bests Charlie Morton for a second time in Game 7? Again, all good in the Dodger Land hood.
A Game 6 Rays win naturally reduces the Dodgers’ room for error and turns up the heat on Roberts and the favorites. It makes sense in theory to have Buehler in that spot, with Game 4 starter Julio Urias and franchise icon Clayton Kershaw (who won Games 1 and 5) ready to help out of the bullpen. Theory means nothing, however, when you’re talking about one game.
You can defend the Dodgers’ process here, you can poke some holes in it. It doesn’t matter. When you’re a huge-market club attempting to win your first title since 1988, and you’re one win away, only the results matter. Bad results will prompt a dissection of what went wrong.
Gonsolin, who worked mostly as a traditional starter from July through September, said, “It feels like I’m back on a normal routine like I was all season. Try not to put more pressure on myself than there already is, try to go out there and throw the ball to the best of my ability.”
A baseball-loving city hopes that best is good enough. And stands ready to wonder, if things don’t turn out the way they want, whether another path would’ve led to victory.
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