NEW YORK -- Coming off a series sweep of the D-backs with visions of Wild Card contention, the Mets on Friday night ran into the buzzsaw that the Dodgers can be.
While Lux’s three-run blast off Noah Syndergaard changed the game, Kershaw’s rebound from three consecutive losses was the highlight for Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose club has 96 wins.
“I think he needed that one,” said Roberts. “The last few, he just hasn’t had the stuff he’s used to having and I think it’s been pretty frustrating to him. To get into the seventh inning, to get the swing and miss and execute pitches, every pitcher regardless of who they are needs to see the zeros on the board.”
As does every manager heading into the postseason with an uncertain starting rotation. In addition to Kershaw’s recent slump, Saturday night starter Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn’t pitched through the fifth inning in his three most recent starts. Fourth starter candidate Rich Hill didn’t get out of the first inning on Thursday.
With the bullpen spent after Hill’s early departure, Kershaw mostly cruised until back-to-back walks with one out in the bottom of the seventh loaded the bases and Joe Kelly came on to limit the damage. Kershaw allowed a first-inning homer to J.D. Davis, two runs total in 6 1/3 innings and struck out five.
“It was OK,” said Kershaw, 10-0 against the Mets and 4-0 at Citi Field. “After that first inning I got into a little bit of a groove there. Not great not to finish the seventh -- Joe really bailed me out there and did a great job. The middle innings, I found a rhythm there. Sometimes it happens. Hopefully, I get on one of those every start.”
Davis said as the game went on, Kershaw’s slider command improved.
“He was spotting it up pretty good,” said Davis. “He had good command of his fastball and then he started really feeling for that curveball. I know he backdoored a couple to me. He's one of those starters where we knew we needed to get on him early before he could get into his groove. He minimized damage. He did Kershaw things."
Kershaw, 14-5, didn’t seem to buy into Roberts’ suggestion that the lefty “needed” the positive outcome. But he was eager to tick off the positives of the game, starting with Lux’s blast to center field on a 3-2 curveball from the flame-throwing Syndergaard.
“Hit a breaking ball which, I’m sure, was the last pitch on his mind,” said Kershaw. “Rios, same thing. [Chris Taylor, who hit a two-run double] same thing. We made Noah work through five innings. Good offensive night for us.”
Kershaw -- whose 15-start unbeaten streak against the Mets to start his career is second-longest for a Dodger versus a single team, behind Don Newcombe’s 16 against the Cubs -- also downplayed the excitement of marquee pitching matchups like this one with Syndergaard.
“As long as we win, I don’t really care,” he said. “I’d much rather face somebody that’s not good. He’s obviously a good pitcher and I’m thankful we got runs on the board tonight.”
Lux’s home run was his second in 10 MLB games and he started despite the return to the lineup of Max Muncy, whose broken wrist sustained 15 days ago led to Lux’s callup. Whether or not Lux would have had a chance to force his way onto the postseason lineup without Muncy’s injury, he clearly has that chance now.
“To see what Lux has done on both sides of the field,” said Roberts. “At the plate, he’s using the big part of the field. He can carry all the outfielders. This is a pitcher he hasn’t seen, throwing really hard, not trying to get too quick and see a breaker and stay though it. That’s impressive to hit a homer here.
“The numbers don’t really show what Gavin’s been doing, the hard contact and taking walks. Velocity has a tendency to speed things up and expand, but you look at Gavin’s at-bats tonight, he was in the strike zone. A place he’s never played before, in this environment, you can check a box, and certainly we keep that in our minds.”