HOUSTON -- It was the image Clayton Kershaw has spent Octobers trying to erase, the one of him slumped over, hands on his knees as another possible postseason victory slipped from his grasp.Instead, Kershaw cued up an unwanted encore.• Dress for the World Series: Get Dodgers postseason gearBefore Game 5
HOUSTON -- It was the image Clayton Kershaw has spent Octobers trying to erase, the one of him slumped over, hands on his knees as another possible postseason victory slipped from his grasp.
Instead, Kershaw cued up an unwanted encore.
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Before Game 5 morphed into a battle of attrition and an eventual 13-12 Dodgers loss, the stage was set for Kershaw to put a bow tie on what had been the best postseason of his career. He already had handcuffed the Astros' offense in the opening game of this World Series and was provided a three-run lead before he threw a pitch on Sunday. By the time Kershaw took the mound in the fourth, Los Angeles looked comfortably ahead with its 4-0 lead.
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There was little to indicate that anything was about to go awry for a pitcher who had allowed four runs total in his previous 21 postseason innings.
"He was rolling," manager Dave Roberts said. "He was throwing the ball well, good rhythm."
But in a game that dripped with drama and lead changes, Kershaw would be the first Dodgers pitcher to feel the sting. Houston ambushed the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner in the fourth, scoring four times in a five-batter span. Yuli Gurriel capped the furious rally with a three-run blast that left Kershaw hunched over and stunned.
"I just lost my command a little bit there in the fourth inning, and that's all it took," Kershaw lamented afterward. "I know it was a slider, but it must have stayed up because he put a really good swing on it."
It took Kershaw 28 pitches to navigate through the frame, but only 20 for L.A. to give him yet another three-run lead, this one courtesy of Cody Bellinger's first World Series blast.
But Kershaw would squander away that one, too. He offered the Astros continued life by issuing a pair of two-out walks in the fifth, at which time Roberts decided it was time to turn to his bullpen. Kenta Maeda promptly served up a game-tying homer to Jose Altuve on a full-count fastball.
The score sat tied at 7 by the time the inning came to an end. Six of those runs were charged to Kershaw, who had given up a combined eight in his previous four starts this month.
"Exactly what you expect to come to the park with [Houston starter Dallas] Keuchel and Kershaw pitching," quipped Astros manager A.J. Hinch after the five-hour, 17-minute affair.
Improbable, indeed. The Dodgers had never lost a Kershaw start in which they scored at least eight runs, and he had been 71-1 (and Los Angeles, 75-5) in games where he pitched with a four-run lead.
The exception, however, has not been quickly forgotten. It came in Game 1 of the 2014 NL Division Series, when Kershaw blew a five-run lead against the Cardinals. St. Louis ended up winning that game, 10-9, and it's often been revisited by those questioning his ability to excel on the game's biggest stage.
"It's definitely a tough one to swallow," Kershaw said. "Everybody did as much as they possibly could to pick me up."
Kershaw finished with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) in a game for the first time since 2010 and has now served up a record eight home runs in this postseason. That equals the number of homers he allowed in all of 2016 (21 starts). Eleven of the 14 runs Kershaw has given up in October have come via the long ball.
Kershaw also generated only four swings and misses -- his fewest since 2012 -- and became the third pitcher in postseason history to surrender at least six earned runs while allowing no more than four hits in a start that didn't last five innings.
There's a chance, however, that Sunday might not be the lasting image of Kershaw's first World Series. Despite the laborious 94-pitch effort, he insisted that he'd be ready to take the ball if asked in Game 6 or 7.
There's precedent for that, too. Last postseason, Kershaw, two days after throwing 110 pitches, notched a two-out save for the Dodgers to send them onto the NL Championship Series.
"I'll do whatever they want me to do," Kershaw said. "I'm sure everybody's pretty exhausted, emotionally and physically. It was a tough one. But you know what? We've still got a chance at this thing."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.