LOS ANGELES ― Twice this year, Clayton Kershaw needed several weeks on the injured list to recuperate from a lower back injury. Twice, the Dodgers insisted the injury was only significant if it hindered Kershaw when the season mattered most: in October.
With two weeks and two days remaining in the regular season, number 22 was equal parts resilient and effective against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kershaw allowed one run in six innings in the Dodgers’ 5-2 win before an announced crowd of 44,854 at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers’ 102nd win of the season officially clinched a first-round postseason bye. They will have five days off before hosting Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Oct. 11.
Kershaw’s 0-walk, 10-strikeout performance was a testament to his command. He fed the Diamondbacks a heavy diet of sliders and fastballs, and recorded nine of his 10 strikeouts with one pitch or the other.
The one curveball he threw for strike three ended a 12-pitch duel with Christian Walker in the fourth inning.
“It was time to throw a curveball,” Kershaw said. “I’d thrown fastballs and sliders basically the whole at-bat. Will (Smith, the Dogders’ catcher) had actually called curveball the pitch before. I shook him off. He fouled off another slider. I was like, well, it’s time.”
No player has batted more than 25 times against Kershaw with a higher on-base plus slugging percentage than Walker (1.068 through Sunday). Kershaw said that one at-bat “probably cost me an inning there.”
Kershaw recovered to complete six innings against the same team he faced in his previous start. He threw 94 pitches, the most he’s thrown in a game since returning from the injured list Sept. 1.
In a way, manager Dave Roberts said, the back-to-back outings against Arizona could help prepare Kershaw to face one team twice in a best-of-seven playoff series.
“How (Kershaw) exploited some weaknesses and used his entire arsenal tonight allows for unpredictability,” Roberts said. “When you talk about the postseason, people rely on predictability in game-planning. A guy like Clayton who’s got four pitches, to kind of use different quadrants and lanes keeps guys on their toes.”
The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on Joey Gallo’s 18th home run of the season, a massive 437-foot shot that landed just beyond the last row of bleacher seats in right field.
Four more runs scored in the fourth inning to put the game away. Gallo kicked things off by following a Max Muncy double with an RBI single to the right-center field gap, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.
Gavin Lux singled on the next pitch from right-hander Merrill Kelly (12-7), moving Gallo to third base. Chris Taylor, who was coming off an 0-for-4, three-strikeout performance in San Francisco Sunday night, smashed Kelly’s next pitch over the left field fence. The only question was how it got over.
The hit was initially ruled a double. The umpires then reviewed video of the ball barely clearing the short padded wall and bouncing off the midsection of a fan sitting in the first row of seats before bouncing back onto the field.
Taylor had a three-run home run after the brief delay, the Dodgers had a 5-0 lead, and the fan had a viral moment of infamy.
“It took me a second to see the replay,” Taylor said. “When I saw the replay I thought it was a homer, because it looked like it hit the guy in the chest. I wasn’t sure. I thought (the double call) still might stand just because of how replays have gone this year. You never know.”
Arizona scored its only run against Kershaw in the fifth inning. Carson Kelly led off with a double, went to third base on a single by Daulton Varsho, and scored when Geraldo Perdomo narrowly legged out a potential double-play groundout.
Kershaw (9-3) lowered his earned-run average to 2.39, the lowest it’s been since July 15.
“Physically I feel great,” he said. “I’m in a good spot. This will by my first time on regular rest, pitching coming up against a good team in the Cardinals. That will be a good challenge, obviously. Got a couple more until October, so that’s good.”
Pitching the ninth inning in a non-save situation, Craig Kimbrel allowed the Diamondbacks to load the bases before he recorded an out. Sergio Alcantara then came to the plate representing the game-tying run.
Alcantara shot a hard ground ball into the teeth of the Dodgers’ left-handed shift, where Lux dove to his right to stop it from going to the outfield. The second baseman flipped it to shortstop Trea Turner covering second base, who ultimately tagged out Josh Rojas in a rundown between second and third.
Kimbrel then got Varsho to pop out to end the game.