Clayton Kershaw pounded his glove over and over, yelling “Let’s go!” as he walked off the mound.
Pretty soon, he was gone.
Kershaw was hit hard in the shortest start of his spotty playoff career, and the shaky Los Angeles Dodgers lost 6-5 to the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series on Friday night.
“Got to do a better job of keeping the score close for our guys to have a chance there at the end,” Kershaw said.
Los Angeles committed four errors, including two by catcher Yasmani Grandal in Milwaukee’s two-run third inning. But another playoff flop for its ace left-hander might be its biggest concern as it tries to cool off streaking Milwaukee.
“He’s been in the playoffs for a really long time,” Grandal said. “He knows what he needs to do to win games and that’s all that matters. Game 5 comes around, then he’ll be the guy on the mound and he’ll be the guy who will get us a win.”
Game 2 is Saturday afternoon at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.
Kershaw holds the team records for playoff wins (eight), starts (21), innings (133) and strikeouts (144), but is just 8-8 with a 4.26 ERA in 26 career post-season appearances. The Dodgers dropped to 13-13 when the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner takes the mound in the playoffs.
The 30-year-old Kershaw quieted some of those October questions when the Dodgers won the NL pennant last year for the first time since 1988, going 3-0 with a 3.82 ERA in six appearances. He pitched six sparkling innings in the NLCS-clinching victory at Wrigley Field against the Cubs, and worked four scoreless innings in relief in Los Angeles’ Game 7 loss to Houston in the World Series.
After he was passed over for Los Angeles’ Game 1 start in the NL Division Series this year, the 2014 NL MVP responded with eight innings of two-hit ball in a 3-0 victory over Atlanta.
The victory against the Baby Braves was one of his best playoff performances. The loss against the Brewers was one of his worst.
“It was a tough one,” he said. “Obviously you don’t want to get your team off to that start.”
The night started to get away from Kershaw and the Dodgers when Brandon Woodruff led off the third inning with a massive drive to right-centre , becoming the third reliever in major league history to homer in a post-season game.
Kershaw glanced back with an incredulous look as Woodruff’s ball soared over the wall, tying it at 1 and sending a charge through the sellout crowd of 43,615.
It was the first time in post-season history that a lefty-batting pitcher went deep off a left-hander. Woodruff joined the Cubs’ Travis Wood (2016 NLDS) and the New York Giants’ Rosy Ryan (1924 World Series) as relievers to homer in the post-season.
“I knew he could swing the bat a little bit, for sure,” Kershaw said. “I didn’t know he could do that, but I knew he could hit a little bit.”
A passed ball and an interference call on Grandal helped set up Hernan Perez’s sacrifice fly. Kershaw minimized the damage by striking out Mike Moustakas, stranding two runners in scoring position and leading to his emotional display as he headed toward the dugout.
Whatever he was trying to do, it didn’t work.
Los Angeles went down in order in the fourth and Milwaukee’s first three batters reached base in the bottom half, chasing Kershaw and producing two more runs on Domingo Santana’s pinch-hit single. Santana swiped second and scored on Ryan Braun’s two-out single against Ryan Madson.
Braun’s clutch swing closed the book on Kershaw, who was charged with five runs, four earned, and six hits. He dropped to 2-5 with a 5.24 ERA in 11 career NLCS games.
Kershaw’s shortest playoff start before the loss to Milwaukee was four-plus innings in a 9-0 loss at St. Louis in Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS, ending Los Angeles’ season.
“We gave up too many bases. We didn’t play clean when he was in the game,” manager Dave Roberts said. “The errors affected the game. But as far as Clayton, I just think it was poor execution. And I thought the stuff was good, but he just made mistakes in the strike zone and defensively, again, we didn’t do him any favours.”