ARLINGTON, Texas — Clayton Kershaw’s glittering career has lacked two of the most satisfying accomplishments: a win deep in the World Series and a championship ring.
When he took the mound Sunday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers were shaken after a stunning Game 4 loss. Kershaw steadied his team with a gritty performance in Game 5, plus one particular delivery home that will long be remembered.
Now, with one more victory, the Dodgers will claim their first title since 1988.
Kershaw beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the second time in six days on Sunday night as the Dodgers earned a 4-2 victory that gave them a 3-2 series lead.
Kershaw escaped a first-and-third, none-out jam in the fourth inning, helped by a quick-reaction throw that cut down Manuel Margot as he tried to steal home with two outs and the Rays trailing 3-2.
"Well, it’s happened to me before, at least one other time that I can remember," Kershaw said. "Carlos Gomez tried it against me in Houston one time. You know, I work on that with the first basemen.’’
Max Muncy, looking on from first, was ready.
"I was fortunate enough to see one or two guys break hard, so I knew what to expect when he broke," he said. "I sprinted toward Kersh and said, ‘Home! Home! Home!’ ’’
Margot walked to lead off the fourth, stole second and continued to third when the ball got away from second baseman Chris Taylor for his second big error in two games. Hunter Renfroe also walked, but Joey Wendle popped out and Willy Adames struck out.
With an 0-and-1 count on Kevin Kiermaier, Margot bolted for home as Kershaw — with his back to Margot — raised both hands over his head in his instantly recognizable stretch position. Many pitchers might have panicked and perhaps balked, but Kershaw quickly stepped off the rubber and threw to catcher Austin Barnes.
Barnes grabbed the ball and got his mitt down on Margot’s outstretched hand while the runner’s helmet tumbled off and cut his own lip.
"It was my decision, 100% my decision," Margot said through an interpreter. "I thought it was a good idea at the time. I thought I had a pretty good chance at potentially being safe."
"If Manny felt that he had a read on it, for whatever reason, it’s tough for me to say yes or no just because he’s a talented baserunner," manager Kevin Cash said. "He might be seeing something that certainly I’m not or can’t appreciate in the moment right here. And he’s trying to do something to pick his team up."
"It was a gutsy move, and it didn’t work," Kiermaier said. "That’s not the reason why we didn’t win the game tonight."
Muncy then hit a 434-foot home run off Tyler Glasnow in the fifth. "When you connect on 100 miles an hour, there’s probably not a better feeling out there than that," he said. "That’s one of those things where I didn’t actually feel it hit the bat."
After Mookie Betts led off the first with a double, Corey Seager and Clay Bellinger had RBI singles, giving Kershaw a 2-0 lead before he ever threw a pitch.
Joc Pederson hit a 428-foot homer in the second to make it 3-0.
Tampa Bay pulled within a run in the third when Kiermaier singled, Yandy Diaz tripled on a ball down the rightfield line that skipped past Betts and Randy Arozarena singled. The 25-year-old Cuban rookie asked for the ball after his record 27th postseason hit, one more than San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval in 2014.
"I didn’t have my stuff like I did in Game 1," said Kershaw, who is 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA in 15 2⁄3 innings. "My slider wasn’t there as good as it was, so fortunate to get through there.’’
His scraggly dark brown hair dangling with sweat, Kershaw was cruising when manager Dave Roberts removed the 32-year-old lefthander in favor of Dustin May after he got two outs on two pitches in the sixth.
The mostly pro-Dodgers fans in the pandemic-reduced crowd of 11,437 booed when Roberts walked to the mound, well aware of what happened with the bullpen the previous night, when Kenley Jansen wasted a ninth-inning lead in a stunning 8-7 loss.
May, Victor Gonzalez and Blake Treinen combined for two-hit scoreless relief. May got five outs, Gonzalez stranded two runners in the eighth and Treinen got three outs.
"Kersh, a lot of credit goes to him for what we’ve been able to do in this World Series," Treinen said. "There’s a tough narrative on him. He’s a phenomenal pitcher on the biggest stage."
Thirty of the previous 46 teams to win Game 5 for a 3-2 lead have won the title, but just six of the last 14.
The Dodgers’ Tony Gonsolin will oppose the Rays’ Blake Snell in Game 6.