Brewers knock out Kershaw, hold off Dodgers’ rally to win Game 1
MILWAUKEE — The postseason career of Clayton Kershaw consists of peaks and valleys, an agonizing autumnal ritual. He can dominate and he can wilt — excellence in one game followed by vulnerability in the next. As the years pass, the heights feel less lofty, a mere respite before the inevitable tumble. The cycle repeated itself in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, as the Milwaukee Brewers hounded Kershaw in a 65 Los Angeles Dodgers defeat.
Kershaw was far from the only Dodger to disappoint Friday evening at Miller Park. But he represents the tip of the organizational spear. The Brewers broke him early and withstood a late flurry on the first night of this series.
“It was a tough one,” Kershaw said. “Obviously, you don’t want to get your team off to that start. But it happened.”
It was the briefest start of Kershaw’s career in the playoffs, a fiverun, nine-out misery. Milwaukee proved to be a more formidable foe than the Atlanta Braves, whom Kershaw had blanked for eight innings in the NL Division Series. That outing marked the peak. Friday was the valley, as Kershaw crumbled beneath the weight of the Brewers bats and the defensive incompetence of his teammates.
Earlier in the summer, as Kershaw approached free agency and navigated around his diminishing velocity, he tinkered with the sequences and locations of his pitches. His resolve has not faded, in this, his 10th season as a Dodger, but his fastball has. Milwaukee demonstrated the limits of his reinvention.
The outing was short, yet pocked with indignities. Kershaw permitted a home run to relief pitcher Brandon Woodruff. He howled in frustration as hits landed behind him and two passed balls got by Yasmani Grandal. The defense made four errors on the evening. Kershaw was forced to hand the baseball to manager Dave Roberts far sooner than either man desired.
“I just think it was poor execution,” Roberts said. “I thought the stuff was good. But he made mistakes in the
strike zone, and defensively, we didn’t do him any favors.”
The devastation was heightened as the game progressed. After Julio Urias yielded a solo homer in the seventh, the Dodgers staged a furious late-game rally, plating three runs in the eighth and another in the ninth on a two-out triple from Chris Taylor. The game ended with Taylor at third base, when Justin Turner struck out against Brewers reliever Corey Knebel.
Manny Machado drove in three runs as the Dodgers forced Milwaukee to expend their elite relievers. Brewers manager Craig Counsell capitalized on inefficiencies in the Dodgers lineup by unleashing left-handed relief ace Josh Hader for three innings. Hader logged a career-high 46 pitches, and is unlikely to pitch again until Game 3. Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress wobbled. The Dodgers lost the battle, but the series still may last seven games.
The Milwaukee bullpen presented a logistical nightmare for Roberts. The Brewers started left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez, but Roberts wondered how long the starter would last. Roberts knew he had to be careful when inserting pinch hitters, because he did not want to shorten his bench for late-game scenarios when facing Milwaukee’s bullpen trio of Hader, Jeffress and Knebel.
“It’s going to be a tricky one,” Roberts said before the game.
Kershaw was making the 21st start of his postseason career. His 20th had been a triumph. He was still stung by the team’s decision to start him against Atlanta in Game 2, rather than Game 1, and he felt validation after bulldozing the Braves. He only struck out three, but missed enough barrels to roll through innings. The Brewers would not succumb to a similar fate.
The Milwaukee Brewers' Lorenzo Cain (6) scores on a Manny Pina sacrifice fly as Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal misses the throw from the outfield during Game 1 of the National League Championship Series in Milwaukee on Friday.