Kershaw struggles; Dodgers search for 1st title since 1988
Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson (31) loses his helmet as he swings strike during the second inning of Game 6 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
CHICAGO (AP) Clayton Kershaw's playoff renaissance is over, at least for this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers ace flopped at a big moment – again.
Kershaw's postseason resume took another hit in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, finishing off the reeling Dodgers. The Chicago Cubs battered the three-time Cy Young Award winner on their way to a 5-0 victory Saturday night, making it 28 years and counting since the Dodgers last won the World Series.
''This day is never fun, the ending of a season,'' Kershaw said. ''You look back and think about the whole season as a whole. It's tough to swallow tonight, obviously, but I'd rather be in this position and fail than not to get to be in this situation at all.''
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Kershaw could have started Game 5 on three days' rest, but manager Dave Roberts decided to save him for Saturday night at Wrigley Field. Roberts was hoping a couple more days would help Kershaw duplicate his performance from Game 2, when he pitched seven innings of two-hit ball in a 1-0 victory.
The decision worked out quite well – for the Cubs. After winning a pair of shutouts in Games 2 and 3, the Dodgers dropped the next two by a combined score of 18-6. Even the great Kershaw was unable to slow Chicago's momentum, and Roberts' first season as Dodgers manager ended in disappointment.
The left-hander allowed four earned runs and seven hits while dropping to 4-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 18 playoff games.
''I think that the first thing I saw is the Cubs hitters, they had a great game plan tonight,'' Roberts said. ''And there was a couple mistake sliders that they took advantage of. But they were running counts, they used the whole field, and there was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when they did – when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.''
Dexter Fowler hit a ground-rule double on Kershaw's third pitch of the night, and the Cubs were off and running. Kris Bryant followed with an RBI single. Then left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Anthony Rizzo's fly ball to the gap in left-center, setting up Ben Zobrist's sacrifice fly.
It was the first time Kershaw had given up two runs in the first inning all season. He was limited to 21 starts this year due to a back injury.
''You get out of that first inning and you give up two, you feel like you have a chance maybe,'' Kershaw said. ''They just kept tacking on runs. I gave up some two-out hits and some homers and some two-strike hits – just a lot of things that you can't do in a game like this.''
Fowler added a two-out RBI single in the second, rookie Willson Contreras hit a leadoff drive in the fourth and Anthony Rizzo connected in the fifth. Rizzo became the first lefty batter to homer against Kershaw since Daniel Murphy for the New York Mets in Game 4 of their 2015 Division Series.
It was the first time Kershaw had allowed two homers in a game since April 9 at San Francisco. That was it for Roberts, who hit for his star pitcher in the sixth.
''We have asked a lot of Clayton all year long, so, again, it's just more of you got to give those hitters credit,'' Roberts said.
While Kershaw struggled against the Cubs, the Dodgers were shut down by Kyle Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman. Los Angeles managed just two hits and four baserunners, with none of them advancing past first.
Chicago became the first team to face the minimum in a postseason game since Don Larsen's perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series.
''We had a 2-1 lead with two games at home and it didn't go the way we thought it would go,'' Los Angeles center fielder Joc Pederson said. ''We didn't take care of business. We made some mistakes, all of us.''
Roberts managed the Dodgers to their fourth straight NL West title after taking over for Don Mattingly. But injuries to Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu hurt rotation depth.
Kenta Maeda, who won 16 games during his rookie season, struggled in the playoffs, and 20-year-old Julio Urias was knocked out in the fourth inning of his first postseason start in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Los Angeles went with three starters in the Division Series against Washington and Kershaw pitched three times, including a two-out save in the clinching Game 5. When he stepped up again in his first start in the NLCS, it looked as if he might be on the verge of a postseason breakthrough.
But his turnaround came to a screeching halt on a cool night in the Windy City. He dropped to 1-3 with a 6.28 ERA in five career starts with the Dodgers facing postseason elimination, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
''It's only going to make him stronger for the years coming on,'' Pederson said. ''He's had some trouble with his back and overcame it and came and helped us win the division and get past the NLDS. We wouldn't be here without him. He'll be stronger for next year.''
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap