OMAHA, Neb. -- On Monday night, Buehler answered when his name was called.
Trailing 4-2 in the fourth inning, Vanderbilt needed something -- anything -- to breathe life into its slipping-away chances against UC Irvine. Enter Walker Buehler, a 15-game starter for the Commodores who made two relief appearances this season, most recently May 2 at Missouri.
Put on notice before the game to be prepared to throw in relief, Buehler was ready. “I think doing that a couple times throughout the year also helps. You're more comfortable doing it.” On Monday night, he looked more than comfortable.“I don’t think it’s to anyone’s surprise the game turned around when Walker came in,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin said. “There was a momentum change. He pounded the strike zone from the minute he got in there until the minute the game finished. Very impressive -- very mature approach to the game.”
Buehler held in check UCI until -- and after -- Vandy righted the ship and rallied for a three-run fifth inning. The Commodores tacked on an insurance run in the seventh but it proved to be more for the fans’ comfort than anything else; Buehler was on cruise control as he wrapped up the 6-4 win.
The comeback victory propelled Vanderbilt one win from the CWS Finals. The Dores will face the Texas-UCI winner at 3 p.m. ET Friday.
Called upon to stanch the bleeding after Tyler Beede coughed up a 2-0 lead by yielding four runs in the second, Buehler was dominating: no hits, two walks and seven strikeouts in 5.1 innings -- including retiring the first nine batters he faced.
“I think we had a good approach against Beede,” UCI’s Kris Paulino said. “He tends to be wild, and we were disciplined. And [when] Buehler came in the game, he pounded the strike zone; he was throwing pretty hard. He had good command of his off speed, too. He was on.”
Buehler shut down the Anteaters’ offense across the board. Other than issuing a two-out base on balls to Grant Palmer and a hit-by-pitch to Paulino on consecutive at-bats in the eighth inning, Buehler was never out of rhythm.
“Once Buehler came into the game, he executed,” UCI’s Taylor Sparks said. “We just didn't play the way we usually play and our at‑bats just weren't what they usually are, especially from Beede to Buehler. We chased a lot more with Buehler. He executed pitcher's pitches against us and we just didn't execute as well.”
Vanderbilt will rest its arms for three days, and Corbin knows getting out to a 2-0 start plays to the Commodores’ advantage given the depth of the pitching staff. “I think the luxury is that we can go into the bullpen a little bit quicker and it never feels like with any of these kids [that] we take a step back, whether it's Walker or whether it's [Adam] Ravenelle or whether it's [Hayden] Stone or Jared Miller or Brian Miller. We have some arms that haven't pitched yet -- Tyler Ferguson.
“Coming into [the College World Series] we just told the kids, as far as roles were concerned, it was up for grabs,” Corbin said. “We were just going to do what we had to do from a skill‑set standpoint to match up against the skill set of the [other] team in order to put ourselves in an advantageous situation.
“I think of them all the same; we don't label them as 1s, 2s and 3s. They're all pretty damn good -- and I like what they're capable of doing.”