Dodgers manager Dave Roberts didn’t have many levers to pull as Saturday night’s game against the New York Mets barreled toward extra innings.
Closer Kenley Jansen, setup man Blake Treinen and short reliever Brusdar Graterol were down because of excessive workloads in recent days, leaving Alex Vesia, Phil Bickford and Corey Knebel as the team’s best high-leverage options.
The Dodgers were in good hands.
Starter Walker Buehler burnished his Cy Young Award resume with another dominant start, giving up one run and four hits, striking out 10 and walking three in seven innings, and Vesia, Bickford and Knebel nailed down the final nine outs of a 2-1, 10-inning victory before a crowd of 38,669 in Citi Field.
Will Smith broke up Mets right-hander Taijuan Walker’s no-hitter with a one-out, score-tying solo homer in the seventh, and Cody Bellinger lined an RBI double to right for the game-winner in the 10th, giving the Dodgers their second overtime win in two nights after losing their previous 11 extra-inning games.
Vesia, who struggled in a first-half stint with the Dodgers, replaced Buehler to start the eighth and retired four batters. The left-hander has given up one earned run in 15 innings (0.60 ERA) of 13 games since his early July recall from triple A, striking out 18, walking three and yielding only five hits to 52 batters.
Bickford, a right-hander with an effective fastball-slider mix, replaced Vesia and got the final two outs of the ninth before striking out James McCann and Brandon Drury to open the 10th. He earned the win and is 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 37 games.
Knebel, the hard-throwing right-hander who was activated Tuesday after missing more than three months because of a right-lat strain, got Brandon Nimmo to ground out to first to end the game.
“They’re just coming into their own and being comfortable in their own skin as big league ballplayers,” Roberts said of Vesia and Bickford. “It’s really fun to see those guys who, before the season started, I didn’t know who they were, and to play such an impactful role for our club is fun to see.”
Michael Conforto staked the Mets to a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when he lined a cut-fastball off Buehler into the right-field seats for a solo homer.
Walker, a 2010 graduate of Yucaipa High School, needed only 73 pitches to complete six no-hit innings in which he walked two, but he left an 0-and-1 slider in to Smith, who sent a 444-foot homer soaring into the second deck in left field for a 1-1 tie.
Buehler ran into trouble in the bottom of the seventh when J.D. Davis led off with a single and Jonathan Villar walked. But the right-hander struck out Tomas Nido and pinch-hitter Travis Blankenhorn and got Nimmo to pop out to Smith, who made a nice running catch in front of the third base dugout to end the inning.
“If they’re gonna leave me in there and trust me to have the ball, the goal is to get out of it,” said Buehler, who ran his pitch count to 110. “You’re just trying to grab whatever you have left and empty it, and luckily it worked out for us.”
Roberts said Buehler was losing command of his cutter in the seventh but was confident he would reach back for something extra.
“There’s a switch that goes off with the great ones,” Roberts said. “He understood where he was at in the lineup, where he was at with his pitch count, and he was smelling the finish line. Guys like that have a way of turning up the dial.”
Buehler (12-2) settled for a no-decision but lowered his ERA to a major league-leading 2.09, keeping him in Cy Young Award consideration with Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler and Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.
But the prestigious pitching award doesn’t motivate Buehler as much as overcoming a four-game deficit to San Francisco in the National League West.
“We have to make the playoffs, man, and my main thing is trying to be a piece of that equation and pushing us to where we want to go,” Buehler said. “The individual stuff is cool, but when the team isn’t where it wants to be, it’s kind of meaningless at this point.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.