Ker­shaw can’t get out of fourth and L.A. rally comes up short

Los Angeles Times - - PL AYOFFS - By Andy McCul­lough

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 6-5 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 his game. 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 in the fourth in­ning, 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 to give the Brew­ers a 6-1 lead, 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 its elite re­liev­ers. Brew­ers man­ager Craig Coun­sell cap­i­tal­ized on in­ef­fi­cien­cies in the Dodgers lineup by un­leash­ing left­handed re­lief ace Josh Hader for three in­nings. Hader logged a ca­reer-high 46 pitches, and is un­likely to pitch again un­til Game 3. Both Knebel and Jeremy Jef­fress wob­bled. The Dodgers lost the bat­tle, but the series still might last seven games.

The Mil­wau­kee bullpen pre­sented a lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare for Roberts. The Brew­ers started left­handed 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 lategame 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 struck out only three in that game but missed enough bar­rels to roll through in­nings. The Brew­ers would not suc­cumb to a sim­i­lar fate.

Ker­shaw in­her­ited a one-run lead in the sec­ond in­ning, af­ter a solo homer by Machado. Roberts stressed the im­por­tance of an early ad­van­tage to dis­rupt the de­ploy­ment of the Mil­wau­kee bullpen. If the Dodgers were ahead, Roberts rea­soned, Coun­sell might be in­clined to save his best re­liev­ers for later in the series. Ker­shaw could not shep­herd the plan to fruition.

When Ker­shaw came to the plate to start the third, a new Brewer was on the mound. Woodruff re­placed Gon­za­lez in Coun­sell’s first chess move of the even­ing. Woodruff pitched a clean in­ning. With the pitcher’s spot due up in the bot­tom of the third, Coun­sell could have used a pinch-hit­ter. Woodruff stayed in the game in­stead.

Woodruff is a re­liever by trade, but he stands 6-4 and weighs 215. He had home­red once ear­lier this sea­son. Ker­shaw picked up two strikes on Woodruff, but could not in­duce a swing with a curve­ball. When Woodruff fouled off a 2-2 fast­ball, Ker­shaw dou­bled down. He threw the same pitch, at 92 mph, down the mid­dle. The re­sult was stun­ning.

“I knew he could swing the bat a lit­tle bit, for sure,” Ker­shaw said. “I didn’t know he could do that.”

Upon im­pact, Ker­shaw whipped his head around to find the base­ball. It was soar­ing over the wall in right-cen­ter field, an im­prob­a­ble solo shot. Woodruff pumped his fist, turned to­ward his dugout and hollered. Ker­shaw slumped his shoul­ders and cir­cled the mound.

As Ker­shaw tus­sled with the top of Mil­wau­kee’s lineup, Gran­dal grap­pled with the more ba­sic act of catch­ing the base­ball. Af­ter a sin­gle by Lorenzo Cain and a walk by Chris­tian Yelich, Gran­dal lost his sec­ond passed ball of the even­ing. Mo­ments later, he was tagged for a catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence on Je­sus Aguilar, who had been robbed of a hit by a div­ing catch by first base­man David Freese. Be­cause of Gran­dal, the bases were loaded.

Ker­shaw was “out on the mound com­pet­ing as much as he can,” Gran­dal said. “And we pretty much just let him down.”

Mil­wau­kee pulled ahead on a sac­ri­fice fly from sec­ond base­man Her­nan Perez. Gran­dal muffed the re­cep­tion of the throw from the out­field, giv­ing him a triple crown for the in­ning: a passed ball, catcher’s in­ter­fer­ence and an er­ror. Ker­shaw ended the rally by strik­ing out third base­man Mike Mous­takas, but the in­ning lasted 29 pitches.

The Brew­ers dogged Ker­shaw again in the fourth. He is­sued a seven-pitch walk to catcher Manny Piña. He gave up a sin­gle to short­stop Or­lando Ar­cia on an 89-mph slider. Tay­lor com­pounded the dilemma by bob­bling Ar­cia’s hit, an er­ror that let both run­ners skate into scor­ing po­si­tion. “We didn’t play clean when [Ker­shaw] was in the game,” Roberts said.

With Ker­shaw tee­ter­ing, Ryan Mad­son warmed up in the bullpen. The leash on Ker­shaw was long enough for one more bat­ter, in the form of pinch-hit­ter Domingo San­tana. Ker­shaw pumped a 91-mph fast­ball that cut the plate in half. San­tana slashed it to left for a tworun sin­gle.

Roberts in­ter­vened mo­ments later, but Mad­son did not strand the run­ner. San­tana swiped sec­ond base on a play that was over­turned by a re­play chal­lenge. For­mer MVP Ryan Braun rolled a sin­gle into right field. The throw from Matt Kemp did not have enough steam to cut down San­tana.

It was the fifth run charged to Ker­shaw. Only four were earned. But all five counted.

“Our team played great,” Ker­shaw said. “My­self, I’ve got to do a bet­ter job of keep­ing the score close for our guys to have a chance at the end.”

AF­TER a bril­liant NLDS start, Clay­ton Ker­shaw wasn’t sharp Fri­day.

Pho­to­graphs by Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

CLAY­TON KER­SHAW CAN’T be­lieve it af­ter giv­ing up a home run to Mil­wau­kee re­liever Bran­don Woodruff in the third in­ning.

UN­ABLE to catch a ball hit by Chris Tay­lor, Brew­ers cen­ter fielder Lorenzo Cain tum­bles.

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