Sports

MLB Playoffs

Kershaw crumbles as Cardinals take Game 1 from Dodgers

By Ken Fidlin, Toronto Sun

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw reacts in the dugout after being pulled in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, Oct. 3, 2014. (JAYNE KAMON-ONCEA/USA Today)

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw reacts in the dugout after being pulled in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles, Oct. 3, 2014. (JAYNE KAMON-ONCEA/USA Today)

LOS ANGELES - 

Clayton Kershaw had a score to settle with the St. Louis Cardinals. Now after Friday’s humiliation, that’s the least of his problems.

The last time Kershaw faced the St. Louis Cardinals in a playoff game, they annihilated him in Game 6 of last year’s National League Championship Series, knocking him out after four innings, having allowed 10 hits and seven runs on the way to a 9-0 whitewash that earned them a berth in the World Series.

Friday night, after a season of glory that few pitchers have ever imagined, let alone accomplished, Kershaw spent five dominating innings dealing with those unresolved issues and then, stunningly, came totally unravelled as the Cards stormed back from a 6-1 deficit to win the opening game of the National League Division Series 10-9.

Through five innings, aside from Randal Grichuk’s one-out home run in the top of the first, Kershaw was perfect. After the home run, he set down 16 men in a row, including one stretch when he struck out five batters in a row. He had another hiccup in the sixth when he gave up a solo home run to Matt Carpenter but, still, he carried a four-run lead into the seventh.

The same St. Louis lineup that had seemed helpless and hopeless against him suddenly turned into the 1927 Yankees. Five of the first six men he faced in the seventh all drilled singles — not little flares, but every one of them hit on the fat part of the bat — to cut the lead to 6-4. In the midst of things, Kershaw got a couple of strikeouts, one on Pete Kozma and one on Oscar Taveras.

“He was still throwing strikes,” said manager Don Mattingly. “It’s really hard to take Clayton out. Once he got Kozma and Taveras, we were going to let him have Carpenter.

“With Clayton, when he gives up a hit or two, you always feel like he’s going to get out of it. He’s always going to rebound. In a sense, he did. He got Kozma and he got Taveras and then he had Carpenter 0-2. Obviously Matt did a nice job of fighting off good pitches and then he finally got one.”

Mattingly was asked if he thought the Cardinals had stolen some signs to make such a dramatic reversal in that inning.

“We don’t feel like it,” said Mattingly. “We changed signs, used multiple signs, different things so, no, I don’t think so.”

Carpenter came to the plate with the bases loaded, still trailing by two runs. Kershaw got ahead 0-2 but Carpenter kept fouling off the good pitches, passing on the balls until the count eventually went full. Kershaw then grooved a fastball right in Carpenter’s wheelhouse and he drilled it into right-centre, clearing the bases with a double. That was it for Kershaw.

In that inning alone, he was responsible for six hits and six runs. The last one was courtesy of reliever Pedro Baez, who served up a three-run home run to Holliday to cap the eight-run uprising for St. Louis. In a rare display of offensive efficiency, the Cardinals sent 11 men to the plate and eight of them scored.

“That inning it was just a real simple approach, guys taking what they were being given and stacking some singles on top of each other,” said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny. “And then you just trust that somebody is going to come up with a big hit. Matt does that and Holliday comes back and gives us some more room.”

The Dodgers got two runs back in the eighth on Adrian Gonzalez’s two-run home run off reliever Randy Choate and then scraped together a single run in the ninth but when Puig struck out on a 100-mph Trevor Rosenthal fastball, the tying run was left stranded 90 feet away on third base.

Kershaw spotted the Cards a 1-0 lead in the first then his teammates came alive in the third inning after a benches-clearing melee, touched off when St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright hit Dodger star Yasiel Puig with a pitch.

After order was restored, the Dodgers scored twice in that inning, twice in the fourth and then twice more in the fifth to take what looked a commanding lead, especially with Kershaw dealing. In that fourth inning, Hanley Ramirez cashed in Puig with an RBI single and Carl Crawford delivered Ramirez home with a double. In the fourth, Puig and Matt Kemp each had RBI singles and in the fifth, A.J. Ellis stroked a two-run home run.

“It’s funny,” said Carpenter. “With these two pitchers, everybody in baseball was expecting a one-run game. We ended up getting one but I guarantee nobody thought it was going to be 10-9. There’s no explanation for why or how that happened.”

Early on, Kershaw didn’t make a lot of mistakes but he made a big one pitching to Grichuk in the first inning. After striking out Carpenter leading off, he got two quick strikes on Grichuk, playing his first-ever postseason game. Then Kershaw hung a curveball and Grichuk didn’t miss it, depositing it in the left field seats to give St. Louis a quick and unexpected lead.

The Los Angeles Angels drafted Grichuk 24th overall in 2009, one spot ahead of a guy named Mike Trout. When the Cardinals traded David Freese to the Angels last winter along with pitcher Fernando Salas in exchange for outfielder Peter Bourjos, they insisted on getting Grichuk in the deal. He hit 25 homers at triple A this year and three more in 47 games with the Cardinals.

Manager Mike Matheny describes Grichuk as having “crazy power.”

Kershaw’s 2014 season accomplishments have been historic. He won 21 of his 27 starts and in 26 of those 27 starts, he allowed three or fewer runs, the highest percentage of any pitcher, ever. He may very well win honours as the league MVP as well as the Cy Young.

But this loss is another stain on his playoff resume, another wrong to right. In his career, Kershaw has pitched 45 post-season innings and he has a 1-4 record with a 5.20 ERA. For a guy who routinely gets compared to Sandy Koufax, that’s just not good enough.

 


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