WASHINGTON (AP) — Hardly at his best, as usual when it comes to October, Clayton Kershaw still managed to do just enough to earn a rare postseason victory.
Backed by early homers from rookie sensation Corey Seager and Justin Turner off Max Scherzer in a matchup of Cy Young Award winners that promised more than it delivered, Kershaw worked around eight hits with the help of seven strikeouts Friday to help the Los Angeles Dodgers edge the Washington Nationals 4-3 in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
His work done, Kershaw was able to relax in the dugout, chewing gum and blowing bubbles while watching relievers Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen combine to allow one hit over four scoreless innings. Jansen got his first five-out save since April 13.
Game 2 in the best-of-five matchup is Saturday at Washington.
In his five innings against the NL East champs, Kershaw allowed three runs, which might not sound like an exorbitant total, but an opponent scored that many only once in the lefty’s preceding 16 starts. He was hardly efficient, needing 101 pitches and plenty of boo-inducing mound visits from catcher Yasmani Grandal. Still, Kershaw improved his career record in the playoffs to 3-6 even though his ERA rose to 4.65.
Those numbers are a far cry from his regular-season marks of 126-60, 2.37 ERA and three Cy Young Awards. Maybe, just maybe, Kershaw’s arm felt stronger this time because he sat out more than two months with a bad back before returning to the NL West winners in September.
He was staked to a 4-0 lead thanks mainly to Seager and Turner, before slowly giving back most of that margin.
Kershaw allowed only one stolen base during 149 innings in the regular season, then allowed two on a single pitch in the third Friday, when Bryce Harper (who had doubled) and Jayson Werth (who had walked) moved up to third and second. That became big when Anthony Rendon ripped a single to left field on a slider that didn’t really slide, bringing both runners home and getting Washington to 4-2.
Trea Turner’s sacrifice fly in the fourth cut LA’s lead to a run.
Like Washington’s Turner, LA’s Seager is a rookie who hasn’t played like one all year long, so why start now?
On the first postseason pitch — and first from Scherzer — he’d ever seen, Seager turned on a 97 mph fastball and hit it to the deepest part of Nationals Park, beyond the 402-foot sign in center field, for a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Scherzer plunked the next batter, Justin Turner, on the left arm. For whatever reason, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner for Detroit — and a 20-game winner who’s a leading contender for the NL honor this year — never truly settled in.
The Dodgers made it 4-0 in the third on Chase Utley’s RBI single, then Justin Turner’s two-run shot on a 77 mph curveball. The ball sailed over the head of Werth, who jumped in vain to try to make a grab, then slammed his glove against the left-field wall.
Homers have been Scherzer’s biggest problem the past two seasons: He allowed 27 in 2015, and a major league-high 31 in 2016.
Kershaw, meanwhile, began perfectly as can be, striking out the side in the first: Trea Turner whiffed on a 90 mph slider, Harper swung through a 96 mph fastball, and Werth nearly tumbled over while flailing at a 75 mph curve.
Things got busier from there for LA’s ace, though. He left the bases loaded in the second, and stranded two runners in both the third and fifth — striking out Danny Espinosa to end each inning.
INDIANS 6, RED SOX 0
CLEVELAND (AP) — Corey Kluber didn’t show a speck of rust. Well-rested and ready for the biggest start of his career, he wasn’t going to let the Indians lose any momentum.
Cleveland’s on some kind of roll.
Fueled by a crowd that included Cavaliers star LeBron James, Kluber carried a shutout into the eighth inning and Lonnie Chisenhall connected for a three-run homer off postseason-cursed David Price, giving the Indians a 6-0 win on Friday over the Boston Red Sox and a 2-0 lead in their AL Division Series.
Looking healthy after a late-season leg injury, Kluber limited the AL East champions to three hits over seven innings as the overlooked Indians, who were given a slim chance of advancing before the series began, moved within one win of returning to the ALCS for the first time since 2007.
“We don’t have the big names. We don’t have the big contracts or any of that stuff,” second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “But we have 25 guys who love to compete and have bought into this team. That’s what we’ve got.”
As the for the Red Sox, David Ortiz and his teammates are in serious trouble and have to hope they can get things turned around Sunday in Game 3 at Fenway Park or their turnaround season will be over and Big Papi’s career will be done.
“Backs against the wall,” manager John Farrell said. “It’s pretty clear what lies ahead of us. We go home down 0-2. (Clay) Buchholz on the mound Sunday with an attitude of no tomorrow.”
Chisenhall connected in the second inning off Price, who fell to 0-8 in nine playoff starts and must now face the wrath of Red Sox Nation. The left-hander lasted just 3 1/3 innings and once again crumbled with a chance to silence critics who say he can’t pitch in the big game.
Despite the loss, a defiant Price is convinced he’ll get another chance.
“I know my number is going to be called again to pitch another game in 2016,” he said. “I want it. I’ll be ready.”
The Indians strung together four straight hits — three of them soft singles — to Price in a 4-0 hole after just two innings.
That’s all Kluber needed. The Cy Young candidate, who hadn’t pitched since straining his quadriceps on Sept. 26, had little issues with the Red Sox, who missed a chance to do some damage against him in the fourth.
Kluber created the jam with two walks before getting Ortiz to swing at the first pitch and pop out. Ortiz slammed his bat to the ground in frustration and Boston’s anxiety grew when Kluber struck out Hanley Ramirez looking for the final out.
“We talked before the game about would he be a little bit rusty or would he be really good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He answered that question. He was terrific. You go through that lineup and don’t give up runs, you’re pitching.”
Chisenhall’s start was somewhat of a surprise since he batted just .217 against lefties this season.
Francona, however, likes to put his best defense behind Kluber, plus Chisenhall came in batting .364 in his career against Price. The decision paid off in a big way early as Chisenhall’s liner to right in the second gave the Indians a 4-0 lead.
As he neared first, Chisenhall raised his arms in triumph. The rest is a blur.
“I don’t remember too much running around the bases,” he said. “I remember seeing it go out and I knew it was a home run, so I slowed down pretty quickly. It was a quick run around the bases.”
Before the Indians took the field, James, who led the Cavaliers to the city’s first pro sports championship since 1964 in June, spoke to the crowd.
“It’s always us against the world,” James said.
Right now, Cleveland’s on top.
BLUE JAYS 5, RANGERS 3
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Talk about a 1-2-3 punch for the Toronto Blue Jays in these playoffs.
The wild-card Blue Jays have rediscovered their power stroke in October, and are going home with a chance to sweep the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series after a 5-3 win Friday.
Edwin Encarnacion capped a three-homer burst in the fifth inning off Yu Darvish, and Toronto won on a dreary, misty afternoon for a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five matchup.
One important reminder, though: Last fall, Toronto lost the first two games of the ALDS at home against Texas, then rallied to win the series.
“I learned something last year … you got to win three games,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “They’ve got a great team over there. You don’t lead the American League, powerhouse league, you don’t luck into that.”
Wearing spikes that had “No Panic” printed on them, closer Roberto Osuna got a five-out save that sent the Blue Jays home looking to clinch the series in Game 3 Sunday night.
Osuna entered after reliever Francisco Liriano was hit near the back of the head by Carlos Gomez’s line drive — Liriano was hospitalized as a precaution. It was Osuna’s first appearance since he left the mound in the AL wild-card win Tuesday night with a shoulder injury that left his status in doubt.
Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera and Encarnacion, who ended the wild-card game with a three-run homer in the 11th inning, hit solo homers in a five-batter span in the fifth. Troy Tulowitzki’s two-run drive in the second put 20-game winner J.A. Happ and the Blue Jays ahead to stay.
“Getting behind in the count, and they were looking for fastballs,” Darvish said through his interpreter. “When I left it on the plate, they got it.”
Texas scored twice in the eighth, including Gomez’s single that struck Liriano. The pitcher walked off the mound, and an ambulance took him to the hospital for what Gibbons referred to as “some further tests.”
A day after Cleveland homered three times in an inning against Boston and won its ALDS opener, the Blue Jays matched the feat against the team that had the best record in the AL this year. The home runs boosted the Blue Jays in a game in which they got outhit 13-6.
While Toronto finished the regular season fourth in the majors with 221 homers, there were only eight the last 11 games. They already have eight in three postseason games.
“Home runs are always a good thing,” Gibbons said.
Darvish had as many strikeouts (four) in his five innings as homers allowed, becoming the first pitcher in the postseason to allow four homers in a game since Minnesota’s Rick Reed against Oakland in Game 3 of the 2002 ALDS.
Texas has lost five straight ALDS games to the Blue Jays since winning the first two games in Toronto last October. The Rangers dropped to 1-11 in ALDS games in their home ballpark, including Cole Hamels worst-ever postseason outing in the 10-1 series-opening loss Thursday.
“We’ve come back from a lot this year. … We all believe in each other,” said Texas outfielder Ian Desmond, who drove in two runs but was also thrown out trying to score on an infield grounder.
Happ allowed nine hits but only run before leaving one batter into the sixth.
“You go into a game knowing that at some point they’re going to get their hits,” Happ said. “But yeah, it was a battle. It seemed like a long five innings.”
Osuna, who afterward said he felt no pain, came in a little earlier than planned, a move that followed Liriano getting struck.
The ball off Gomez’s bat was measured at 102 mph, and Liriano turned away just in time to avoid being hit in the face. Gomez winced as the ball caromed into right-center field to make it 5-2.
Desmond drove in a run with a grounder before Osuna struck out Carlos Beltran to end the eighth.
Adrian Beltre was stranded at second after a leadoff double in the ninth.