Dusty Baker thought he’d seen the last of Clayton Kershaw after the 28-year-old left-hander’s start in Game 4 of the NLDS matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and as Baker put it, “Thank God, you know what I mean.”
In his Game 1 and 4 starts, Kershaw gave up 15 hits and eight runs, all earned, walking three and striking out 18, and in spite of the fact that was not particularly sharp, the Dodgers managed to win both outings.
At least that was it, however, and the Nationals wouldn’t have to see the three-time Cy Young award-winner again.
But in the ninth inning of Game 5 in Washington, D.C., with two on and one out after Kenley Jansen issued back-to-back walks to Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, there he was.
Kershaw took the mound to face Daniel Murphy and popped him up for the second out of the frame, then struck Wilmer Difo out to end it and give LA a 4-3 win.
It was an especially surprising development considering that Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, shot down the idea of using Kershaw at all in Game 5 just a few hours earlier.
“Would Kershaw be available for an out?” a reporter wondered in Roberts’ pregame press conference?
“No. Absolutely not,” Roberts said.
So when did that “absolutely not” turn into a yes? Apparently it was at some point in the seventh, after Chris Heisey hit a pinch hit home run off left-hander Grant Dayton to turn a 4-1 game in the Dodgers’ favor into a 4-3 nail-biter, and Clint Robinson hit a single in the next at bat to put the potential tying run on the basepaths.
Roberts turned to closer Kenley Jansen at that point, for what would have been a nine-out save.
“Clayton came to me in the seventh and said, you know, just understanding that Kenley
was pitching from the seventh inning on, and said that he had an inning if I needed it,” Roberts told reporters after LA’s Game 5 win.
“So at that point in time, I talked to the training staff and got the okay. I just felt that Kenley was going to go out there and give us everything he had; and for that Murphy at-bat, I wanted Clayton, and so I felt good about it.”
“I came to him, you know, once Kenley went out there in the seventh,” Kershaw said.
“I was just kind of doing the math. I know Kenley -- I don't think Kenley's ever done a six-out save, let alone a nine-out save. He threw 20 pitches in that seventh inning, and I just said, I'm going to go get loose, see how I feel and I'll let you know, but I might be able to do this. That's kind of what happened, yeah.
“Went out there, I kind of knew all along that I would have Murphy. If Kenley went one, two, three right there, I'm not getting in the game. But he told me to be ready for Murphy, and I felt fine, so it was good.”
Coincidentally (it’s not irony), it was Kershaw’s first save as a pro since 2006, when he was called upon late in a Gulf Coast League game with the Dodgers’ GCL affiliate, to close out a 2-0 win over the Gulf Coast Nationals.
And, of course, Kershaw threw to catching prospect... Kenley Jansen in that outing, before Jansen was converted into a reliever.
Kershaw talked about his thought process when he came on to face Murphy in the ninth in Nationals Park, with two on and a slim, one-run lead.
“I sure hope I get him out, yeah,” Kershaw said.
“You know, he's probably the best hitter in the National League. He was out for I don't know how long for the regular season, and came back in the series and just put the barrel on the ball every at-bat, basically.
“So it's a tough out right there. I think thankfully — I missed my spot honestly, and got in on him a little bit and got him to jam. But he's such a tough out and I think honestly, all you can do is just -- all I did was just throw as hard as I can and hope he gets out.”
Dusty Baker said after the Nationals’ season-ending loss, that he wasn’t actually too surprised that the Dodgers turned to Kershaw in the end.
“No, not really. You know, they were doing everything they could to close that game out, including bringing Jansen in in the seventh,” Baker explained.
“You know, wish they would have brought somebody else in, but they brought in one of their other horses. And so I'd be interested to see, you know, they won the war, but see the effects of Jansen and Kershaw when they get to Chicago.”
“We'll see how he comes out of it, you know,” Baker said.