CHICAGO — Clayton Kershaw broke into a small grin as he left the mound for the final time Sunday night, the culmination of a brilliant night’s work and maybe some good luck.
The last pitch he threw had been crushed by Javier Baez, but the ball landed safely in Joc Pederson’s glove in deep center. Kershaw handed off to his closer with the slimmest of leads, and the Dodgers were soon headed back to Los Angeles tied in this NLCS, following a 1-0 victory over the Cubs in Game 2 at Wrigley Field.
Kershaw was everything a three-time Cy Young award winner still in his prime should be. Three days after entering in relief to get the final two outs in the Dodgers’ NLDS clincher in Washington, the stud lefty fired seven shutout innings in which he allowed two hits and one walk and six strikeouts.
Kenley Jansen handled the rest, recording a six-out save in helping the Dodgers close the wound from a night earlier, when Joe Blanton surrendered a grand slam to Miguel Montero in the eighth inning of a tie game.
On Sunday, with two outs and the tying run at first base in the seventh, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went to the mound and chose to stick with Kershaw, who was pitching for the fourth time in 10 days. For a moment that decision seemed as if it had backfired, as Baez hit a drive to deep center on Kershaw’s 84th and final pitch. But the ball died in Pederson’s glove and the Cubs were finished threatening for the night.
As desperately as they tried to increase their 1-0 lead — Adrian Gonazlez’s homer in the second was the only scoring — the Dodgers were stifled by the Cubs bullpen, which fired 3 2/3 hitless innings behind Kyle Hendricks.
The series will resume Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, with Jake Arrieta scheduled to face Rich Hill in Game 3.
“The fact [Kershaw] has been on such a heavy load lately, it’s going to be interesting to see where he’s at,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the game. “I think that command and velocity will tell you a lot early on.”
Maddon got his answer: Kershaw retired the first 14 batters he faced before Baez singled with two outs in the fifth. Willson Contreras’ ensuing single gave the Cubs a threat, but Kershaw retired Jason Heyward to escape.
Hendricks lasted 5 ¹/₃ innings for the Cubs and allowed one run on three hits with four walks and five strikeouts. It was an acceptable, but not great performance by the righty, who posted a 1.32 ERA at home during the regular season.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Dodgers wasted scoring chances in the sixth, seventh and ninth. In the sixth, Baez let Pederson’s soft liner drop in front of him that became an inning-ending double play when Adrian Gonzalez became confused and was caught off second base. In the seventh, Mike Montgomery walked Yasmani Grandal and Chase Utley, but retired Corey Seager to keep the Cubs’ deficit at one run.
In the ninth, the Dodgers got Pederson to third base with one out against Aroldis Chapman, who escaped the jam.
Gonzalez homered leading off the second to give the Dodgers their run. It was a second big hit in as many at-bats for Gonzalez, who delivered a two-run single in the eighth inning against Chapman on Saturday that tied the game. Gonzalez’s homer Sunday was his second this postseason.
Hendricks scuffled early, walking two batters in the third inning to give the Dodgers a threat before Gonzalez struck out to end the inning.
Kershaw motored through three innings at 31 pitches and had a brief moment of pause in the fourth on Anthony Rizzo’s towering drive onto Sheffield Avenue, behind the right-field fence, that was foul by only a few feet. Kershaw then retired the Cubs first baseman.