Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen reach playoff glory
By Cary Osborne
Clayton Kershaw threw 1,278 postseason pitches in his life prior to Thursday, but he wasn’t supposed to throw one in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
Instead, he threw the seven most courageous, gutsy and maybe important pitches of his baseball career.
Two days after making 110 pitches — and immediately after Kenley Jansen pushed his own limits and threw a career high 51 pitches — Kershaw came in with two on and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Dodgers clinging to a 4-3 lead.
He swatted that Nat Daniel Murphy by inducing a pop-up and then struck out pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo, a man who had 78 big-league plate appearances in his career, with a curveball that sent the Dodgers to Chicago to play the Chicago Cubs for a shot at the World Series.
“Clayton came to me in the seventh, and understanding Kenley was pitching from the seventh inning on, (Kershaw) said he had an inning if I needed it,” Dave Roberts said. “So at that point in time I talked to the training staff and got the OK.
“I felt Kenley was going to go out there and give everything he had. For that (last) Murphy at-bat, I wanted Clayton. And so I feel good about it.”
Kershaw and Jansen — two of the most historic pitchers in franchise history — now find another place in Dodger lore and join the company of Orel Hershiser and Steve Howe, who made their own similar October magic.
In Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets, Hershiser started and went seven innings in an 8-4 loss. The next day, with the Dodgers down 4-2 in the top of the ninth inning, Mike Scioscia hit a two-run home run, sending the game into extra innings. The Dodgers got a run in the top of 12th, but the Mets loaded the bases in the bottom. Hershiser came in with two out and got Kevin McReynolds to pop out to earn a save.
On Thursday, Joc Pederson tied the score 1-1 in the top of the seventh with a home run off Washington ace Max Scherzer. It was the first time a Dodger had hit a game-tying home run in the seventh inning or later of a postseason game since Scioscia in ’88 — that from ESPN Stats & Information.
Now, Kershaw can cozy up next to Hershiser in the category of unfathomable-but-true postseason relief performances.
Prior to the game, Roberts was asked: “Would Kershaw be available for an out?”
His answer: “No. Absolutely not.”
Roberts was right. Kershaw got two.
As for Jansen, he was phenomenal. From the start of this game, it was pitooey to conventional baseball with the Dodgers going to a bullpen game, starting with Rich Hill. Roberts basically managed out by out after the second inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, after the Dodgers had taken a 4-1 lead, Grant Dayton surrendered a walk to Danny Espinosa, then a pinch-hit two-run homer by Chris Heisey. He then walked Clint Robinson, and Roberts went to Jansen.
Jansen threw 21 pitches in the inning. He allowed a single to Bryce Harper and had to intentionally walk Murphy. But he earned two big strikeouts in the inning, one on Jayson Werth and the other on Anthony Rendon to end the inning.
After a leadoff walk in the eighth to Stephen Drew, Jansen retired the next three Nationals, setting up the first three-inning-or-more save in Dodger history since Steve Howe went 3 2/3 scoreless innings on October 28, 1981 to close the World Series-clinching Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.
But before the ninth inning, Kershaw left the dugout and headed to the bullpen to begin throwing, just in case.
Jansen struck out Trea Turner to start the ninth on his 41st pitch of the game. His second pitch to Harper, the ensuing batter, set a career high for Jansen — the previous being 42 on April 2, 2011.
He walked Harper and then Werth. Clearly taxed, having given everything and thrown 51 pitches, Jansen gave way to Kershaw.
“I guess I didn’t envision Kenley coming in in the seventh,” Kershaw said. “Obviously, in these type of situations, you know, I think Kenley for five, maybe six outs. The situation called for it; we needed to get out of that inning in the seventh.
“You can’t say enough about Kenley, what he’s done this whole season, and then what he did tonight,” Kershaw continued. “I think he threw — what did he throw, 50 pitches or something like that? If he’s going to do that, and (Justin Turner) is going to do what he’s going to do, it’s just the nature of our team. We just want to pick each other up. I wanted to be out there tonight, and I’m glad it worked out that way.”
And after seven Kershaw pitches, the Dodgers still have the opportunity to throw the final one of 2016.