This time, Clayton Kershaw did not have to offer a concession speech. He did not have to admit, as he did after Game 1, that the other team's starter outpitched him. Tuesday night, when the Dodgers needed him most, he gave them what they most needed.
There was no question about who was the best in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Kershaw delivered an ace's effort for a team that could not afford to lose. He outlasted, outpitched and even outhit Steven Matz, the Mets phenom from Long Island.
Kershaw overcame his own shaky postseason history, going seven innings, allowing only three hits, collecting eight strikeouts and giving his team life. Zack Greinke, Kershaw's partner in a two-ace rotation, will work the deciding Game 5 Thursday night against Jacob deGrom, who outpitched Kershaw in Game 1, by the latter's own admission.
"I really wanted to win tonight for a lot of reasons, but obviously the most important was just to give Zack a chance. It felt good to prove Donnie right and get that opportunity," Kershaw said, referring to manager Don Mattingly's choice to pitch the lefthanded ace on only three days' rest.
Despite his postseason struggles -- a 1-6 career record and 4.99 ERA -- he had been positive about this one more chance. Mattingly admitted Tuesday night that when Yoenis Cespedes beat out an infield hit to start the seventh, there was a feeling of here we go again. "But he stopped that," Mattingly said.
Kershaw didn't want to go through the past, saying: "There's no curse or anything. I just had to get through the seventh."
But everyone who follows the Dodgers knows how difficult October has been for Kershaw. There was great satisfaction that he was the one who kept their season going and sent them back to Los Angeles tied at two games apiece.
"Everything you're supposed to be, he is," Mattingly said. "And to see him do that on short rest is a good feeling for myself, but I think a lot of guys in that clubhouse feel the same way. This guy's an animal, the way he works. He's a credit to the game, so I'm really happy he was able to do that tonight."
This time, Kershaw used more fastballs, which set up curveballs that got the Mets off stride. The pivotal curveball of the night, though, was one thrown by Matz with one out in the third. Kershaw lined it to leftfield, starting a three-run rally that led to a 3-1 win.
"Honestly, I'm just trying to be annoying," Kershaw said of his at-bat against a Mets pitcher known for his own hitting. "For some reason, I got a hit. I don't know why or how. I didn't end up scoring but I think that maybe got the guys going a little bit."
Earlier, Terry Collins, who was the Dodgers minor league director when Kershaw broke in, praised the opponent for having worked his way up. "He zoomed through the minor leagues and now he's the best pitcher in the game," the Mets manager said.
Others might debate that designation, but Kershaw sure was the best in Tuesday night's game.