When Dodgers manager Dave Roberts visited Clayton Kershaw on the mound with a runner on base and two out in the seventh inning Sunday night at Wrigley Field, he had every intention of pulling his ace.
“He said, ‘We can get this guy, I can get this guy,'” Roberts recounted. “And at that point in time, that’s all I needed to hear.”
Kershaw recorded the final out to escape with seven scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 1-0 victory over the Cubs, but it was much closer than he would have liked.
Kershaw watched anxiously with his hands on his knees as Baez launched a fly ball to the warning track and into center fielder Joc Pederson’s glove, then walked off the field grinning with relief on the way to his fourth career postseason victory.
“I thought it was out, for sure,” Kershaw said. “He hit it pretty good. … I kind of talked my way into it. I really wanted to. (Roberts) was probably not going to trust me again after that, but fortunately he hit it at somebody, so it was good.”
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the game that it would be “interesting to see” how Kershaw looked given his workload thus far in the playoffs.
Kershaw pitched three times in the five-game division series against the Nationals, throwing 101 pitches in Game 1, 110 pitches on three days’ rest in Game 4 and seven pitches in a two-out save two days later, the first save of his career.
Kershaw said Sunday night he was more concerned with a disruption of his routine than workload, but neither seemed to affect him.
He pitched 4 2/3 perfect innings before Baez and Willson Contreras broke through with back-to-back singles. He didn’t reach a three-ball count until the sixth inning, when Dexter Fowler popped out foul in a nine-pitch at-bat. And he didn’t issue a walk until Anthony Rizzo reached on four straight balls to open the bottom of the seventh.
Staked to a 1-0 lead on Adrian Gonzalez’s homer, he had few scares through his two-hit, six-strikeout outing before Baez’s at-bat. Then he handed the ball off to closer Kenley Jansen, who recorded a six-out save to tie the series at 1-1.
“When you’re in the moment, you’re just trying to constantly stop runs,” Kershaw said. “The way that (Kyle) Hendricks was throwing, it was one of those games where one pitch could have been the deciding factor. I couldn’t look up for a minute for air and just kind of kept going through it, and I was fortunate to get through it.”
Kershaw has plenty of motivating factors to help him grind through this postseason run.
Roberts said he believes Kershaw wants to pick up his teammates after missing more than two months with a herniated disc in his back during the regular season.
There’s also his mediocre playoff resume before this year. In 16 career postseason appearances since 2008, including 12 starts entering Sunday, Kershaw had gone 3-6 with a 4.79 ERA.
Roberts said the notion of his playoff troubles should be put to bed.
“It should,” he said. “I know he’s tired of hearing about it. It’s unfair. For us, I don’t think we care. What this guy has done is digging deep. I can’t say enough about Clayton Kershaw.”