LOS ANGELES — Carrying his club to the cusp of the World Series, and opposed by a team trying to repudiate pitcher-role norms, Clayton Kershaw gave the sort of performance Wednesday at Dodger Stadium that can help shape a legacy.
Kershaw dominated in the Dodgers’ 5-2 win over the Brewers in Game 5 of the NLCS, yielding one run and striking out nine across seven innings. Los Angeles is one win away from a second consecutive NL pennant as the teams head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 Friday.
“It wasn’t as easy maybe as last year to get to this point,” Kershaw said of a Dodgers team that underwhelmed in winning 92 games and a sixth straight NL West title. “If you would have told us in spring training we would have a chance to go back to the World Series, one game to go, we definitely would have taken that.”
The big game from Kershaw was even bigger considering the state of the Dodgers, who used all of their relievers in a 13-inning win Tuesday. They sorely needed length from their lefthanded ace, who lasted only three innings last week and whose career 4.26 postseason ERA is the lone blemish on an otherwise all-world resume.
Kershaw dominated except in the third inning, when pitcher Brandon Woodruff walked and Lorenzo Cain doubled for a Brewers lead. After a two-out walk to Ryan Braun, Kershaw rebounded to retire his final 13 batters.
The results and stuff stood in stark contrast to Kershaw’s Game 1. On Friday, he had zero swing-and-misses on 32 sliders, according to Brooks Baseball. Wednesday, it was 10 whiffs on 45 sliders (plus eight on 21 curves).
“When you get a champion like him that gets hit around a little bit, he’s going to respond and that’s what he did today,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Before Kershaw starred, the game began with subterfuge. Lefthander Wade Miley, purportedly starting on short rest, faced one batter, Cody Bellinger, and walked him on five pitches. His outing was over. A day after needing 12 innings from his relievers, Counsell went right back to the bullpen, starting with righty Woodruff, who allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings, his longest outing of the year.
Counsell said the fakeout with Miley had been the plan for days (unless the Brewers trailed 3-1) to obtain favorable matchups. “And we were able to give Woody some matchups,” Counsell said.
The Brewers’ starters — or initial out-getters or, in Miley’s case, non-getters — recorded a combined three outs in Games 4 and 5. On Tuesday, Gio Gonzalez pitched an inning before exiting with an ankle injury.
Miley will start Game 6, with Jhoulys Chacin getting the ball in an if-necessary Game 7.
For a while, Counsell’s ploy seemed to work. Woodruff navigated a sleeping-giant lineup with ease, thanks partially to a pair of double plays from Manny Machado.
The Dodgers tied it against Woodruff in the fifth, when Austin Barnes bounced a single up the middle to bring in Chris Taylor. They took the lead in the sixth, when Max Muncy slapped a 1-and-2 slider away the other way, driving in Justin Turner.
Finally getting some timely hitting, Los Angeles tacked on from there, including Yasiel Puig’s RBI knock in the sixth, punctuated by his wild gesticulations on his way to first. The Dodgers went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position. In the previous two games, they were 2-for-20.
That’s just good enough to get to the brink of baseball’s biggest stage.
“Doesn’t really matter how you get here,” Kershaw said. “But thankful that we are here now for sure.”