LOS ANGELES -- Joe Maddon always makes you think, like this gem from the bespectacled Cubs skipper, who was asked whether the Dodgers sending ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw to the mound for a win-or-go-home Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday negates the Cubs' home-field advantage as
LOS ANGELES -- Joe Maddon always makes you think, like this gem from the bespectacled Cubs skipper, who was asked whether the Dodgers sending ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw to the mound for a win-or-go-home Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday negates the Cubs' home-field advantage as the series shifts back to Chicago:
"He could definitely negate a phone booth," Maddon said. "He's just that good."
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What Maddon meant, he said later, is that Kershaw is so sublime a pitcher that he can succeed in the tightest of spots. Wrigley Field qualifies as such, and Kershaw already proved he can negate Cubs fans and Cubs bats alike when he pitched seven scoreless innings in the Dodgers' 1-0 win in Game 2.
Game 6 will be a rematch of that night: Kershaw for the Dodgers -- who face elimination after Thursday's 8-4 loss to Chicago, which is now up 3-2 in the best-of-seven set -- against Cubs right-hander and regular-season NL ERA leader Kyle Hendricks.
"Obviously, the fans [in Chicago] are pretty excited about their team this year, and rightfully so," Kershaw said. "They've been waiting a long time for them to win. ... Pitching on the road is obviously different, but you try and keep it the same as possible. D.C. was one of the louder environments that I've pitched into, so I've gotten to do that now a few times. I guess I'm as prepared as I'll ever be for that."
Does he feed off the crowd noise or block it out?
"Neither, I think," Kershaw said. "It's not something -- you don't really feed off of it. There is no real 'clear the mechanism' thing. I don't think that really happens. You definitely still hear it, and it definitely doesn't go away. But just do your best not to let it affect you."
In a quiet Dodgers clubhouse in the wake of Thursday's loss, player after player named Kershaw as the source of their confidence about a comeback.
"I'm sure he would be the first one to tell you that he wants it," said reliever Joe Blanton, who surrendered the go-ahead runs in Game 5. "He wants it more than anybody. We want him to have it."
"When it's Kershaw Day," added infielder Kiké Hernandez, "there's that little bit of extra confidence."
"We can grab back that momentum with one name: Kershaw," Dodgers first baseman Adrián González said.
There were questions in the run-up to Game 5 on Thursday about whether Dodgers manager Dave Roberts would bump up Kershaw to start on short rest. But Roberts stuck with Kenta Maeda, in part because of Kershaw's recent heavy lifting.
That includes a Game 1 start in the NL Division Series against the Nationals, another start on short rest in Game 4 and a two-out save in the clinching Game 5 -- plus his start against the Cubs in NLCS Game 2. Kershaw pitched four times, spanning 19 1/3 innings, in a 10-day span.
Now, after holding the Cubs to two hits over seven scoreless innings, capped by Javier Báez's harrowing lineout to deep center field, Kershaw is facing the Cubs for the second time in six days.
"I mean, pitchers definitely don't have an advantage," Kershaw said. "I don't know if the hitters have an advantage. But pitchers, the more you see somebody, the more familiar you get with them. I mean, that's true for sure.
"I don't think there's anything that you do to counteract it. I said this the other day, but you can't really -- there's no secrets in the game right now. There's so much information. They know every pitch that I throw and every count and every situation. So it's just a matter of not really focusing on that and just trying to compete every single pitch and execute every single pitch. You maybe have a little less margin for error facing them the second time. But just be better, I guess."
Said Maddon of Kershaw: "At this time of the year, if you wanted to get to your ultimate goal, you have to beat people like that."
Adam McCalvy has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001.