LOS ANGELES -- Following Hyun-Jin Ryu with Clayton Kershaw not only worked for the Dodgers, it was historic.
Kershaw threw a two-hitter over eight innings and rode home runs from Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal to a 3-0 win over the Braves on Friday night in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium. Following a 6-0 Game 1 win, the Dodgers joined the 1921 New York Yankees as the only teams to open a postseason series with back-to-back shutouts.
:: NLDS schedule and results ::
The Dodgers need just one win to advance to their third straight NL Championship Series. They're now 7-2 overall against the Braves this year, including 3-1 at SunTrust Park, where the series resumes Sunday after a Saturday travel day.
Management's decision to hold back Kershaw for an extra day of rest resulted in a commanding 2-0 series lead. It also resulted in Kershaw's longest and best postseason start against an aggressive Braves lineup that was reduced to soft contact, when it had any. It was the longest scoreless postseason start for the Dodgers since Jose Lima's shutout of the Cardinals in 2004.
"He pitched," manager Dave Roberts said of Kershaw, who has allowed one earned run in 21 career postseason innings against Atlanta. "For me, one of the best outings I've seen that I can recall. He changed speeds, used both sides of the plate and changed eye levels. There was soft contact and he was in complete control. You've got Sandy Koufax in the front row and he was outstanding."
• Kershaw gets ovation from Koufax after start
After closer Kenley Jansen locked down the game with a scoreless ninth inning, the Dodgers can fly cross-country supremely confident. In a five-game series with the 2-2-1 format, teams that have won the first two games at home have won the series 24 of 27 times (89 percent).
Maybe being passed over for Ryu in Game 1 shifted Kershaw's competitive juices into overdrive, or maybe the Braves were just overmatched, but Kershaw with only three strikeouts was just as effective as Ryu (who fanned eight in seven innings) in his first scoreless start since the All-Star break. Kershaw needed only 85 pitches and received a loud ovation when he came out for the ninth inning, but it was merely a ruse to lure the Braves into burning an extra pinch-hitter and Jansen came on.
Did Kershaw draw added satisfaction from his performance after being dissed on the Game 1 start? You betcha.
"Yeah, maybe. Maybe a tick, for sure," he said with a smile. "But you know, Ryu threw so unbelievable last night that you just want to match him, that's all I was trying to do, just put our team in a good spot and defend home field when you have it. Game 1, Game 2, whatever. I'm getting to pitch in the playoffs and I'm excited about that."
Roberts, who delivered the news to Kershaw of the Game 1 snub on a conference call, said the lefty's ability to set aside distractions was impressive, but not surprising.
"This guy is a potential Hall of Fame player," Roberts said. "So to have the noise around him, but when it comes to his day to start and to help his ballclub win a game, I had no concern that anything was going to affect him. I feel good, we feel good that we put both those guys in the best position to pitch well."
Roberts said one factor in the decision to send Kershaw out for the ninth as a decoy and not let him finish the game was a tightening left hamstring that resulted from an Ozzie Albies line drive in the sixth inning. Kershaw said it hit the belly of the muscle, which was sore, but he didn't expect it to affect his availability to pitch.
Ronald Acuna Jr. drilled Kershaw's first pitch of the game for a double to left-center. Kershaw not only stranded Acuna at third base with a knee-buckling called strike three on Nick Markakis to end the first inning, he went on to retire 14 consecutive batters until Ender Inciarte's infield single off Kershaw's hand with two out in the fifth inning.
• Braves miss chance for 'release' as 1st fizzles
While Kershaw has turned into a breaking-ball pitcher this year, some scouting reports haven't caught up to the transformation.
"That was a totally different Kershaw than I've ever seen," said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. "Usually, he's at 94-96 mph with an 88 mph slider and a big curveball. I saw one curveball tonight and I saw 90 mph heaters. It was just kind of weird. We were hitting the ball in play. We were just hitting weak ground balls and popups.
"Our gameplan in our meeting today told us to come out swinging early. The analytics from our meeting told us he throws a lot of heaters. Ronald jumped on that. Johan [Camargo] did that and then all of a sudden those analytics went out the door because he started throwing sliders and all that, and that's why he's Clayton Kershaw."
Kershaw had an early lead on Machado's two-run homer, which cashed in Joc Pederson's double leading off the first. Braves starter Anibal Sanchez tried to pitch around Machado and fell behind in the count, 3-0. He threw a cutter down, but Machado reached for it and wristed it over the fence. It was Machado's eighth hit (and fourth homer) in 16 at-bats off Sanchez.
"I have the option of walking him," said Braves manager Brian Snitker. "That's my fault right there. But I just assumed right there -- and the pitch he hit was, I mean, most guys don't get that ball. But I could take it out of his hands, too."
• Young fan celebrated his birthday by catching Machado's homer
Grandal, snapping an 0-for-20 hitless streak in the postseason, led off the bottom of the fifth with a shot into the right-field pavilion on an 0-2 pitch, projected by Statcast™ at 419 feet.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kershaw pointed out second baseman Enrique Hernandez's stab of Freeman's sharp grounder with one out, Acuna on third base and the infield in. Hernandez threw out Freeman for the second out and Kershaw caught Markakis looking to escape the jam. It was the only time the Braves had a runner on third base while Kershaw was in the game.
"Any time you can get out of that first inning without giving up a run is huge, especially as the home team. Giving your guys a chance to score first is always really important," said Kershaw. "I was fortunate to get out of that and Kiké made a nice play on Freddie there."
Pederson led off the first inning with a double and scored on Machado's homer, extending Pederson's streak of recording at least one hit and scoring at least one run to eight consecutive postseason games, tied for third-longest in MLB history, most recently by Daniel Murphy in 2016.
HE SAID IT
"Did you want Daddy to finish? See, she knows, She knows." -- Kershaw, who asked 3-year-old daughter Cali if she wanted her father to be allowed to finish the game, and Cali shook her head and said, "No"
• Kershaw asked his kids if they wanted him to go for the shutout