Clayton Kershaw was pitching on short rest, three days’ worth, and he was through six innings on 89 pitches, with a 5-2 lead.
Los Angeles Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts was faced with a tough decision.
Did he stick with LA’s ace for the seventh? Go to his pen, which was beaten up?
With Danny Espinosa, Pedro Severino, the pitcher’s spot due up and the top of the Washington Nationals’ order [Trea Turner, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth] to follow, Roberts made the decision to stick with Kershaw.
“I think that right there with [Kershaw], at that point in time, pitch count, throwing the ball really well, and you know, where our pen was at in that state, he's our best option,” Roberts explained after the game.
Kershaw was on his way to another scoreless frame, with Danny Espinosa at first two outs after a leadoff single, when Trea Turner’s third hit of the game brought Roberts out of the dugout for a chat with his starter. It didn’t last long. Kershaw stayed in to face Harper.
“There was an ambush Espinosa base hit,” Robert said. “And he got the groundball infield hit from Turner.
“And so then from me, you look at who we have, and I think that Clayton is our best option.”
“I like the way he was throwing the baseball,” Roberts explained, “and when I went back out there, I wanted him to get Harper.”
Kershaw didn’t get Harper. He walked the Nationals’ 23-year-old slugger in an eight-pitch battle that ended with the bases loaded and two out.
That was it for Kershaw, who was up to 110 pitches at that point.
He had to sit and watch as Pedro Baez hit Jayson Werth to force in a run and Luis Avilan gave up a game-tying single by Daniel Murphy.
“Kershaw was on empty,” Dusty Baker said. “We knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it. That was some battle [with Harper].”
The Nationals tied it but failed to take the lead, and the Dodgers came back with a run in the bottom of the eighth and held on to avoid elimination and force a Game 5 in the nation’s capital tomorrow night.
“Most of the time, when you have an opportunity to take the lead and you don't, most of the time, something bad happens,” Baker said.
“And you know, we had an opportunity to take the lead.”
Kershaw received no decision, but did what he could to help LA stay alive, with an effort that impressed everyone involved.
“Kershaw was outstanding,” Baker said.
“That's one of the best performances I've seen, especially on three days' rest. And I knew that if we didn't get him -- we had him on the ropes early in the first inning, and I knew if we didn't get him and the shadows came in, it was going to be very, very hard to see. Because I've played games here at that time, and you're just swinging at what you think you see, and not exactly what you're seeing, which is evident of all the strikeouts. Not to take anything away from him, because he was outstanding.”
“I felt really good about until the last like four minutes or so,” Kershaw told reporters after the Dodgers’ 6-5 win.
“I’m exhausted for one, just physically and mentally drained. But we get to live another day.”
“You see the same guy every time he steps on that mound,” Chase Utley said, when asked about Kershaw, after he connected for the eventual game-winning hit in the eighth.
“He's intense. He's a competitor. He's extremely fun to play behind.
“Another guy that comes to mind that I had the opportunity to play behind, is Roy Halladay, for a number of years. They have a lot of similarities. Their game day focus, kind of stay away from them a little bit, let them do their thing, they are quiet. But when they get on that mound, they are ready to go.”
“And that's the thing,” Roberts added, “is every time he takes the mound, it's one of those things. And that's one of the challenges that we talk about in our clubhouse, is after any game, whether it be a playoff game or a regular-season game, you should be not only physically, but mentally exhausted.
“And the thing is, his conviction, his preparation, all leads to an outing, each outing.
“And for Clayton to leave every bit of himself out there speaks to, that's why he's great. That's why he's the best pitcher on the planet.”
Luckily for the Nationals, that’s the last they’ll see of the Dodgers’ ace this season.
“Thank God, you know what I mean,” Dusty Baker said.