Magnificent 7: Kershaw riding high

Dodgers ace caps scoreless outing by talking his way into one more batter

October 17th, 2016

CHICAGO -- returned to the Dodgers' dugout, plopped onto the bench next to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and let out a sigh of satisfied relief. Kershaw had just talked his way into one last batter in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, and that batter, electric Cubs infielder , had just rocketed an inning-ending lineout deep to center field.

A 1-0 lead was safe, and the Dodgers were on their way to a victory by that same margin to tie the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

Kershaw turned to Honeycutt and said, "I think my throat just ended up in my gut."

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But it was a good feeling.

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"It's fun when you win, so, yeah, I'm enjoying it right now," Kershaw said. "It was one of those games where one pitch could have been the deciding factor. So, really couldn't look up for a minute for air. … I was fortunate to get through it tonight."

It was the biggest moment in the best postseason start of Kershaw's career, capping the first scoreless postseason start ever for a visitor at Wrigley Field. It was an equally satisfying victory for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who had every intention of calling upon closer when he left the dugout before the Baez at-bat.

Kershaw had not allowed a Cubs hit until back-to-back singles in the fifth inning, and was still working on a shutout when he walked leading off the seventh. Jansen completed his warmups in the bullpen while Kershaw retired on a called strikeout and induced an flyout to left field. Jansen was standing with a hand on his hip when Roberts strode toward the mound.

The plan, Honeycutt said, was for Russell to be Kershaw's final batter. Kershaw's pitch count was a reasonable 82, but he was working for the fourth time in 10 days, just three days removed from a two-out save in the Dodgers' clinching win over the Nationals in the NL Division Series. That Kershaw had pitched so beautifully -- 6 2/3 innings to that point, two singles, one walk, six strikeouts -- was remarkable.

"I thought Russell was going to be his last batter," Honeycutt said. "That's when the manager has to look in his eyes."

Thing is, Honeycutt and Roberts and all of the Dodgers infielders who gathered on the mound knew what Kershaw's eyes were going to signal.

"Clayton told him he wanted the ball and said, 'I'm going to get [Baez] out,'" said third baseman . "Dave said, 'All right, go get him out.'

"That's one thing you have to give Dave credit for all year, he believes in his guys. When you say you're going to get it done, he lets you go get it done."

How many managers are willing to do that, Turner was asked.

"Well, I think everybody on the planet would let Kershaw change their mind," he quipped.

"I had every intent to go out there and get him and go to Kenley," Roberts said. "But as I went out there, I looked him in the eye and just, obviously, the confidence that Clayton has to get a hitter, and I just -- I went with my gut. He said, 'We can get this guy, I can get this guy.' And at that point in time that's all I needed to hear."

Baez, of course, had an opportunity to say something on the matter as well. If Kershaw was the star of Game 2, Baez was the best supporting actor in a losing role, knocking the sharp single in the fifth that ended Kershaw's bid for a perfect game, and smartly letting a soft line drive drop in the sixth to produce a rally-killing double play.

Baez took a fastball down for ball 1, then connected with another fastball up and away and sent a line drive screaming toward in center field, 102.5 mph off the bat with a 24-degree launch angle, according to Statcast™. Similar batted balls are a hit 90 percent of the time, and a home run 67 percent of the time.

"I thought it was out, for sure," Kershaw said.

Baez and Cubs manager Joe Maddon knew otherwise. "I really hit it good, but I was just a little bit out front," Baez said. "And [the ball traveled to] dead center. I think the wind killed it a little bit. I just didn't get all of it."

"You're so used to watching a ball come off the bat, you knew it was just not far enough," Maddon said. "You just knew it. It was hit well, then immediately you look at the outfielder and you look at the wind, and you know that all in advance."

Pederson had a good feeling, too, when he saw the low trajectory of Baez's liner. He marveled at Baez's "crazy" bat speed and called him "a great player."

So is Kershaw, though he joked later that Roberts might have never trusted him again had he had not recorded the out he promised during that mound meeting.

Kershaw, coming off a tremendous start, was a little testy that the first question asked of him postgame was about the Baez fly ball.

"But mainly I thought I could get [Baez] out and came really close to not doing it," Kershaw said.