By Jon Weisman
Surrounded by the bricks in Wrigley Field on a Sunday evening, Clayton Kershaw was a wall.
And no one blew him down.
Kershaw, kicking his October naysayers in the teeth with each inning he throws, combined with Kenley Jansen on a razor-thin 1-0 shutout, evening the National League Championship Series at one win for the Los Angeles Dodgers, one for the Chicago Cubs.
“It’s a good feeling,” Kershaw said in an on-field interview with Fox Sports 1 after the game. “I don’t know how to compare games or anything like that, but we needed this win tonight bad.”
This was the first 1-0 postseason victory by the Dodgers since Game 3 of the 1963 World Series (Don Drysdale three-hitter), and the first two-hit shutout in Dodger playoff history.
“Awesome. Watching Kersh, that shows he’s the best in the game,” Jansen said. “His stuff that he had, the way that he pitched against this team. He showed you again, he can just put this team on his back.”
The Dodgers will take home-field advantage in the NLCS back to Dodger Stadium for Games 3, 4 and 5, Tuesday through Thursday.
“Going back home, splitting this series in Chicago, we like where we’re at right now,” Kershaw said.
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Adrián González gave the Dodgers a run — the run — when his swing glided into a 1-0 pitch from Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks at the start of the second inning and lofted it 384 feet into the beyond in left center field.
This would be the only hit for either team until the fifth, when Kershaw himself singled to center. The Dodger pitcher was stranded, but Los Angeles had a bigger threat end in more bizarre fashion in the sixth.
González walked, and Josh Reddick singled him to second, ending Hendricks’ night (5 1/3 innings, three hit, four walks, five strikeouts, 91 pitches).
Against righty reliever Carl Edwards Jr., Joc Pederson hit a soft, broken-bat liner to second baseman Javy Baez, positioned on the lip of the grass. With both Dodger baserunners frozen, thinking it would be caught, Baez calmly fielded the ball on the shorthop and threw to Addison Russell to force Reddick, before Gonzalez was tagged out in a rundown between second and third base for a double play.
The move recalled Dodger Stadium’s first triple play, started by Darren Dreifort when he let a similar ball drop in front of him on June 13, 1998.
On the flip side, there was Kershaw, and for 4 2/3 innings, only Kershaw, who retired the first 14 batters he faced. Even so, given the past week, this was uncharted territory.
“There was a little concern,” he said, “not the workload so much as the routine was so much different. Throwing on short rest, throwing a couple outs there in Game 5, it’s just a lot different, a little bit more intense than most in between starts. More than anything, just the unexpected, just because I didn’t know how I was gonna react. But it felt good coming out tonight, and I think the ball was coming out fine.”
A warning sign appeared when three consecutive batters — Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell — hit hard flies off Kershaw. Rizzo’s went foul before he struck out to end the fourth. Zobrist and Russell found the Dodger outfielders for the first two outs of the fifth.
But next, Javy Baez singled sharply to left field, and Willson Contreras (who had stood with the bat on his shoulder in his first at-bat strikeout against Kershaw) followed with a 98 mph single to center.
Jason Heyward’s pop to Justin Turner provided the escape valve in the fifth, at which point Kershaw had still only thrown 51 pitches (matching Jansen’s total in 2 1/3 innings during Thursday’s amazing National League Division Series finale). Even during a perfect sixth, that number zoomed to 72, and despite the relatively low count, it was reasonable to assume how many good ones Kershaw had left.
It didn’t look good in the bottom of the seventh when he walked his first batter of the game, Anthony Rizzo, on four pitches, bouncing the fourth. And it looked worse when the wind took a Ben Zobrist foul ball away from González all the way to behind home plate, where Yasmani Grandal had it go off his glove for an error.
But karma was a switch. Zobrist struck out — Kershaw’s sixth. Russell flied out to shallow left. After the now customary Dave Roberts U-turn to and from the mound, Javy Baez was the batter.
He hit one, hit it well — 103 mph — but it died in the center field air, finding Pederson’s glove, and kicking off a Roberts-led celebration in the dugout.
“He’s not gonna trust me anymore if guys keep hitting the ball like that,” Kershaw said. “That was scary there. I thought that ball had a chance to get out of there. I missed my spot bad, right over the middle of the plate.
“Off the bat, I thought something bad. I kind of had a mini-stroke right there.”
Said Roberts: “I had every intention of going out there to get him and go to Kenley. But when I went out there, looked him in the eye and (saw) obviously the confidence that Clayton has to get a hitter, I just went with my gut. He said, ‘I can get this guy,’ and at that point in time it was all I need to hear. It was just about him executing.
“Obviously, Baez got into it and we all held our breath a little bit, but to see Clayton with what he’s done … and what he’s given us in October is really something special. He left it all out there.”
Kershaw’s night was complete. Only 84 pitches, only two hits, only one walk. And still, when Jansen came in to start the bottom of the eighth, only the 1-0 lead.
Three days after his monster outing, Jansen whipped through his first inning in 10 pitches, nine of them strikes, the last whiffing Game 1 hero Miguel Montero. Aroldis Chapman stranded Pederson at third in the top of the ninth, and three outs remained.
Dare we say, the ninth was easy. Jansen needed only eight pitches in the bottom of the ninth to strike out Fowler and Bryant before a soft liner to Chase Utley ended the game.