It's simple, really: Clayton Kershaw beat Steven Matz.

No, not on the mound -- though the argument can certainly be made that the Dodgers lefty dominated every Met to face him Tuesday night. Instead, Kershaw managed to do something that, in Matz's mind, loomed just as large. With one out in the third, Kershaw deposited a 2-and-2 breaking ball to leftfield for the Dodgers' first hit of the night.

Suddenly, the spell Matz was under -- the one that afforded the rookie infinite poise for the first two innings -- was broken, and the Dodgers, who didn't need much with a three-time Cy Young Award winner at the helm, were well on their way to forcing a deciding Game 5 on Thursday in Los Angeles.

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"He had one bad inning," Terry Collins said of the Ward Melville product. "If he wants one pitch back, it's probably the hanging slider he threw Kershaw after he just threw a fastball by him. That's probably a pitch he'd like to get back. But other than that, he pitched a very, very good game.

"I've got all the confidence in the world in him . . . If we get to the next round, he's going to be a part of that rotation."

Matz, making only his seventh major-league start, was, Collins said, "outstanding," but outstanding wasn't enough on a day when Kershaw was Kershaw -- limiting the Mets to just three hits in seven innings. The single that the 24-year-old lefty let up to Kershaw was one of four hits in a three-run fourth inning, though only Justin Turner's two-run double was hit solidly.

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"He just fell behind a couple of hitters," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "Howie [Kendrick] muscled a ball through the infield. Adrian [Gonzalez] got another hit, jammed him a little bit but it found a hole, and Turner has been red hot . . . It was just one of those situations where you've got to tip the cap and be ready for the next pitch and the next inning."

The consensus, though, was that it was a gutsy performance -- especially since Matz, who missed a start because of back pain, hadn't pitched in a major-league game since Sept. 24. Until his instructional league start last week, the Mets weren't even sure he'd be on the roster. Then Tuesday night, he had the unique challenge of facing one of the most dominant pitchers of this era in front of a sellout crowd at Citi Field. It was his first major-league loss, having come into the game 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA.

After that rough third inning, Matz settled down to allow just two more hits. He pitched five innings, allowing three earned runs, six hits and two walks (one intentional) and four strikeouts.

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"I'm going to build off the positives here," Matz said. "When you face a guy like Clayton Kershaw, you want to put up zeros and I wasn't able to do that today."