NLDS Game 2: Clayton Kershaw shuts down Braves; Dodgers lead series 2-0

Tim BrownMLB columnist
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8180/" data-ylk="slk:Clayton Kershaw">Clayton Kershaw</a> pitched his longest postseason start ever in Friday’s NLDS Game 2 vs. the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/teams/atl" data-ylk="slk:Atlanta Braves">Atlanta Braves</a>. (Getty Images)
Clayton Kershaw pitched his longest postseason start ever in Friday’s NLDS Game 2 vs. the Atlanta Braves. (Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – Clayton Kershaw threw eight shutout innings, Manny Machado and Yasmani Grandal homered, and the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves, 3-0, Friday night at Dodger Stadium to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

Game 3 of the series is scheduled for Sunday night in Atlanta.

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Though he struck out only three Braves, Kershaw economically mixed his fastball, slider and curveball, drew consistently soft contact, and drew cheers when he burst from the dugout to start the ninth inning from a sold-out Dodger Stadium crowd, which believed Kershaw would be allowed to finish the shutout. Instead, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts followed a couple minutes later, took the ball, and summoned Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen for the final three outs.

Kershaw allowed two hits – a leadoff double in the first inning and a two-out infield single in the fifth inning. Unexpectedly moved out of his traditional Game 1 role, Kershaw pitched into the eighth inning for the first time in 20 postseason starts. He concluded the eighth with 85 pitches, 63 for strikes. Jansen recorded the final three outs for his 14th postseason save.

In the fall of 2009, a 31-year-old left-hander for the Los Angeles Dodgers named Randy Wolf started Game 1 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Wolf was a bit past his time by then, but he’d been around enough, seen some innings, and the playoffs were a big deal. The Dodgers, see, hadn’t won, really won, in 21 years. Such a long time. The next day, a 21-year-old lefty who probably was the future, that being Clayton Kershaw, would start Game 2. It seemed safer that way. He became the team’s ace that day nine years ago, an appointment that matched his promise and everyone’s expectation for him.

In every Game 1 since, or every Game 1 in which the Dodgers could possibly find a reason for it, Kershaw would be the starting pitcher. He led them into eight series after that, including five division series and one World Series.

The years passed, the series passed, the opportunities for championships passed. What did not change, for going on a decade, was the identity of the left-hander who would take the ball first, who would be asked to set the series tone. The moment was always Kershaw’s, win or not.

So it was with some lack of ceremony that on Thursday, in the first game of the 2018 NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers opted to begin their postseason with Kershaw on the bench and another – Hyun-jin Ryu – on the mound. The club noted scheduling technicalities, along with the hopes others – Ryu, in particular – would benefit from a specific amount of rest. In any other year, they’d all but redraw the modern calendar and generate snow days to ensure Kershaw would get the ball first. But Ryu shut out the Braves for seven innings in Game 1, which dimmed any sentiment the Dodgers might’ve laid too much on him when they had a decade-long ace (with a 2.73 ERA over 26 starts) standing … right … there.

Kershaw neither supported nor denigrated the decision. Instead, he prepared for Game 2 against the Braves.

“There’s probably a lot of emotions, [but] I don’t want to speak for him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You know, when you are who he is, there is a certain expectation that he has for himself, but I respect the way that he kind of followed what we asked of him. And now his only job is to go out there and do what he’s always done and what he loves to do and go out there and compete and pitch well.”

Kershaw, who finds himself in a rotation suddenly deep with Ryu, Walker Buehler and Rich Hill throwing well, shrugged and pitched eight scoreless innings against the Braves. His first pitch of the game – a fastball to rookie Ronald Acuña Jr. — was rifled into the left center-field gap, and otherwise Kershaw pitched away from the Braves’ bat barrels. Kershaw stranded Acuña at third base, and in the bottom of the first the Dodgers scored twice against Braves right-hander Aníbal Sánchez, a 34-year-old making his seventh postseason start. The previous six were with the Detroit Tigers. He lost four of those.

Dodgers leadoff hitter Joc Pederson, who began Game 1 with a home run, opened Friday night with a double past Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. After two were out, Machado homered into the left-field bleachers on a three-ball cutter.

While Machado, the new Dodger, had been a .148 hitter in eight prior postseason games, he also was a .467 hitter (7 for 15) with three home runs in his career against Sanchez. On a three-ball count and with Pederson on third, Machado stroked a low cutter for his 14th home run as a Dodger.

Grandal homered to right field in the fifth inning to give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead. Sanchez lasted three more batters. In 4 2/3 innings, he allowed three runs on five hits.

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