For the first three innings of tonight’s National League Division Series opener, I listened to Vin Scully on the radio while watching the game with the sound on the TV off. The radio call was about seven seconds ahead of my television feed, which meant that Scully would paint a picture for me, and then I’d have a short and satisfying period of imagining it in my head before I’d see it in full color.
The Dodgers’ gratification wasn’t delayed much longer than mine was.
With two runs in the second inning and two more in the third quickly erasing the ennui of their sub-.500 September, Los Angeles bit into to a 4-0 lead on their way to a satisfying 6-1 victory to take a 1-0 NLDS lead over the Atlanta Braves.
Though the offense made the most noise, Clayton Kershaw had a night to remember. Almost as an afterthought, Kershaw struck out nine of his final 11 batters and finished with 12 whiffs, the most by a Dodger in the playoffs in 50 years and one day, since Sandy Koufax fanned a team-record 15 in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series.
|1||Sandy Koufax||1963-10-02||WS||1||LAD||NYY||W 5-2||CG 9 ,W||9.0||6||2||2||3||15|
|2||Carl Erskine||1953-10-02||WS||3||BRO||NYY||W 3-2||CG 9 ,W||9.0||6||2||2||3||14|
|3||Don Drysdale||1965-10-10||WS||4||LAD||MIN||W 7-2||CG 9 ,W||9.0||5||2||2||2||11|
|4||Don Newcombe||1949-10-05||WS||1||BRO||NYY||L 0-1||CG 9 ,L||8.0||5||1||1||0||11|
|5||Tim Belcher||1988-10-05||NLCS||2||LAD||NYM||W 6-3||GS-9 ,W||8.1||5||3||3||3||10|
|6||Sandy Koufax||1965-10-14||WS||7||LAD||MIN||W 2-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||3||0||0||3||10|
|7||Sandy Koufax||1965-10-11||WS||5||LAD||MIN||W 7-0||SHO9 ,W||9.0||4||0||0||1||10|
|8||Sal Maglie||1956-10-03||WS||1||BRO||NYY||W 6-3||CG 9 ,W||9.0||9||3||3||4||10|
After going down on three Kris Medlen strikeouts in the first inning, nearly every note the Dodgers played tonight was a sweet one. And Yasiel Puig was arguably the conductor.
While nearly everyone was waiting to jab their fingers at Puig’s first mistake, the rookie Dodger outfielder showed them the much bigger picture of his abilities in a dynamic second inning. With one out, he singled to center in his first career playoff at-bat. After drawing several pickoff throws from Medlen, he roared all the way to third base on a single to center by Juan Uribe, seemingly catching Jason Heyward off guard. Puig then scored on a Skip Schumaker sacrifice fly, also to center, with Heyward being the one to make a poor throw home that allowed Uribe to take second base.
A.J. Ellis then ripped a ball to left field that a better outfielder than Evan Gattis would have caught, but instead it went past for an RBI double that doubled the Dodgers lead to 2-0.
To top things off, after Kershaw gave up a bloop single to Gattis in the bottom of the second inning, Puig helped put an end to it by catching a one-out fly ball and doubling off Gattis at first base.
Moments later, Carl Crawford singled to start the third and Adrian Gonzalez doubled the Dodgers’ lead with a two-run homer to dead center. And in the fourth, the Dodgers’ converted A.J. Ellis’ second double into their fourth two-out run of the game and a 5-0 lead when Mark Ellis singled him home.
Kershaw hardly had a perfect night. After needing only 23 pitches over the first two innings, he found himself pitching from behind in the count in the third and fourth. At one point, Brian McCann hit a fly ball near the wall in left field with two runners on that was worth a good scare. However, Crawford flagged it down, and though Kershaw subsequently allowed an RBI single to Chris Johnson, the Dodgers ended the inning still up 5-1.
The 25-year-old Dodger lefty soon hit his stride, striking out six batters in a row at one point, and with Hanley Ramirez doubling in another run, the Dodgers headed into the bottom of the seventh comfortably ahead, 6-1. Kershaw then took the mound despite already having 104 pitches to his name, pretty much eliminating any idea that the Dodgers would bring him back on three days’ rest for a potential Game 4 start Monday. (If there is a Game 5 on Wednesday, Kershaw would have five days’ rest.)
After a leadoff walk and with Paco Rodriguez warming up behind him, Kershaw struck out the final three batters in the inning to cap his 124-pitch night, having allowed but three singles and three walks.
Though the final 11 Dodger batters made outs (including Andre Ethier as a pinch-hitter for Kershaw in the eighth), it didn’t matter. Brian Wilson pitched a shutout eighth inning, and Kenley Jansen, getting his playoff feet wet (no doubt to the consternation of those worried about him being wasted) after throwing only 24 in-game pitches in the past nine days, allowed a walk and a bloop single but closed the door on the Braves in the ninth with three strikeouts.
It was a brilliant night for the Dodgers, but it will be a short one. Game 2 looms on the docket, 18 hours after tonight’s final out.