LOS ANGELES - This is how it goes for Clayton Kershaw, arguably baseball's best pitcher from April through September. The Dodgers ace, or at least their co-ace, was very good and at times dazzling in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Mets. He just was not good enough.
He made one big mistake, which was one more than Jacob deGrom made, and then wore down in the seventh inning, prompting his manager to take him out of the game (the same manager, by the way, who was criticized last postseason for leaving Kershaw in too long).
"Jacob pitched an amazing game,'' Kershaw said after the Mets' 3-1 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of their National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium. "We battled him, got him deep in some counts, got his pitch count up there, but he outpitched me, plain and simple."
In any case, the misery continued for Kershaw, whose playoff woes -- and a fruitless offense -- put his club into an immediate hole. They now have little room for error in a best-of-five series.
Kershaw, the easygoing, flame-throwing lefthanded starter, fell to 1-6 in the postseason. His previous playoff angst included drubbings and big innings. This one did not. It comprised one costly hit, Daniel Murphy's home run into the rightfield bullpen in the fourth, and some pitches that just missed in the seventh.
Kershaw was particularly exercised over not getting the call on his final pitch of the night, ball four to Curtis Granderson with two out and two on.
Don Mattingly, realizing that his starter had thrown 113 pitches and did not have the same stuff that he had shown in striking out 11 in his first five innings, decided to replace Kershaw with Pedro Baez -- dropping the latter into a bases-loaded stew.
Kershaw did not make a scene about the decision, as he had in a game late in the regular season, but his heart sank as he sat on the dugout bench and watched Baez fall behind David Wright before giving up a two-run single on a 3-and-2 pitch.
Wright has had much more success against lefthanders, with a .351/.429/.595 slash line in 37 at-bats this season and a .340/.433/.572 slash line for his career.
"We felt like David's really good,'' Mattingly said in explaining his decision. "His numbers against lefties are really good. He had walked three guys in an inning . . . [Against] Duda, he was just kind of out of sync a little bit. Tejada, he got 0-2, he just couldn't put him away. And then Curtis' at-bat, he's battling, battling and ends up walking him. At that point, I've got to feel like we'll go righthanded there against David.''
Said catcher A.J. Ellis, "We don't have a leg to stand on there after walking the bases loaded. That's my guy out there on the mound. If we had gotten the chance to go after David, Clayton would have competed with everything he had, poured everything out to get that out right there. But Donnie has got to make a choice, not only for the team but for Clayton, to protect him. We trust our guys in the bullpen. These guys have electric arms too.''
Said Kershaw, "I put myself in that spot. There's not much room for arguing when you put yourself in that position. Each game is a little bit different. It didn't work out this time.''
The day before this start, Kershaw had confronted his October history repeatedly when asked about it. "I don't know, I mean, the goal is always to make it to the playoffs, regardless of where you ended up last year, and the goal is always to win the whole thing every year," he said. "I definitely remember, but it's a new team, new season and, hopefully for me, a new outcome."
In Game 1, though, it was a different route to the same empty feeling.
Said Kershaw, "I felt pretty good, except for that seventh inning. That 3-2 pitch to Tejada, the ball kind of slipped out there. I wanted to have that one back. The one to Granderson was kind of a good battle.
"They had a good approach. Obviously, Murphy put a good swing on the ball. I felt a little more comfortable against righties tonight, I don't face that many lefties usually, so I'm not worried about it. Basically just tip your cap to them, that's the best thing you can do.''