LOS ANGELES -- It was the kind of matchup that defines October baseball. Clayton Kershaw's tank was on empty in the seventh inning, as Bryce Harper fouled off pitch after pitch, working an eight-pitch walk to load the bases in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.Out walked Dodgers
LOS ANGELES -- It was the kind of matchup that defines October baseball. Clayton Kershaw's tank was on empty in the seventh inning, as Bryce Harper fouled off pitch after pitch, working an eight-pitch walk to load the bases in Game 4 of the National League Division Series.
Out walked Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who opened his palm and asked for the baseball. Kershaw, who would eventually pick up a no-decision in the Dodgers' 6-5 victory on Tuesday, exited his stage to a thunderous ovation from the Dodger Stadium faithful.
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Minutes later, that crowd went deafeningly silent. The Dodgers' bullpen promptly allowed all three of those inherited runners to score -- simultaneously tying the game and ruining Kershaw's pitching line.
But make no mistake about it: It was Kershaw who led the Dodgers to their Game 4 victory Tuesday. He may have allowed five runs over 6 2/3 grueling frames. But it's unlikely the Dodgers would be headed back to Washington for a winner-take-all Game 5 (Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/5 PT, FS1) without the exploits of their ace.
"I'm exhausted, for one," Kershaw said afterward. "Physically and mentally drained. We get to live another day. Overall, [I] exhaled a little more than anything."
Kershaw struck out 11 while throwing 110 pitches -- the most by a pitcher on short rest between postseason starts since Roy Oswalt in 2004.
Kershaw even contributed at the plate, doubling and scoring in the third inning and walking in the sixth. The double was the first postseason extra-base hit by a Dodgers pitcher since Orel Hershiser in 1988.
"Kershaw was outstanding," Nationals skipper Dusty Baker said. "That's one of the best performances I've seen, especially on three days' rest."
With Kershaw sitting on 89 pitches after six, Roberts opted to send him back out. The lefty allowed hits to Danny Espinosa and Trea Turner, prompting Roberts to visit the mound for a first time.
"Where our 'pen was at in that state, he's our best option," Roberts said. "And for me, I like the way he was throwing the baseball. When I went back out there, I wanted him to get Harper."
Kershaw didn't get Harper -- despite several very close calls, including one just off the outside corner.
"He's a really good hitter," Kershaw later said. "We don't need to give him strikes."
Pedro Báez followed by plunking Jayson Werth, before Daniel Murphy tied the game on a two-run single to center against lefty Luis Avilán.
In his four career short-rest starts -- each of which occurred in Game 4 of the NLDS -- Kershaw now owns a 3.16 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings.
Much has been made about Kershaw's postseason legacy, and numbers-wise, he didn't help himself much on Tuesday. But sometimes, numbers don't tell the whole story. For six innings, he was very sharp -- only to falter in the seventh, in a situation that is almost never asked of anybody else.
He's lasted at least six frames in all four of his playoff starts on short rest. In the past 10 postseasons, only four other pitchers have done so once.
"For Clayton to leave every bit of himself out there speaks to why he's great," Roberts said. "That's why he's the best pitcher on the planet."
AJ Cassavell is in his sixth season as a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.