Teams that allow six runs to the Dodgers in a game started by Clayton Kershaw don’t often live to tell the tale. Kershaw and his relievers have combined to give up seven or more runs only four times since July 2, 2011. Unfortunately for Atlanta, last night wasn’t one of them.
The 25-year-old southpaw was a bit wilder last night than in his sharpest outings, but his merely adequate control didn’t stand in the way of a dominant performance. Thus, when the Dodgers capitalized on a couple of defensive lapses by the Braves in the top of the second, the game was well on its way to being over.
Kris Medlen, who drew the task of dueling Kershaw for the home team, struck out the side in the first, offering a glimmer of hope that he might match the visitors’ ace zero for zero. But Kershaw retired the Braves in order in the home half, and that hope was gone four batters later.
Adrian Gonzalez lined out to begin the next frame, but Yasiel Puig followed with a bouncer up the middle for a single. Puig, aggressive as ever on the basepaths, then went from first to third on a base hit by Juan Uribe, setting up Skip Schumaker with runners at the corners. The interim center fielder plated Puig with a sacrifice fly, on which Uribe advanced to second because Heyward missed the cut-off man, firing all the way home with virtually no chance to gun down the rookie. That put Uribe in scoring position for A.J. Ellis, who sent a looping fly ball toward the left-field line.
A rangier outfielder than Evan Gattis might have secured the catch to end the inning, but Gattis lunged and missed the ball, allowing Uribe to score on what was ruled a double. That proved to be the deciding tally in the 6-1 Dodgers win.
But the Dodgers were only one-third of the way to their total for the night. Gonzalez, who had been hitless in eight encounters with Medlen prior to Thursday night, accounted for two more runs in the top of the third. More salient than that small sample of outcomes data was the information the first baseman apparently gleaned from his past meetings with the righty. Nearly a third of the pitches he had seen from Medlen had been changeups.
Gonzalez got one to open his second-inning at-bat, and he swung through the off-speed pitch, well placed on the outside black, for strike one. In his second trip to the box, Gonzalez came up looking for the changeup, preferably in a more favorable spot. He got just that. And he did this.
The Dodgers tacked on another run in the fourth inning on a double by Ellis the catcher and a single by Ellis the second baseman. The Braves countered quickly on an RBI knock by Chris Johnson, which followed a single by Freddie Freeman and a walk drawn by Gattis, but that was all they would get. Don Mattingly’s club added a superfluous insurance tally on a double by Hanley Ramirez in the sixth.
Meanwhile, with the exception of the fourth-inning hiccup, during which he surrendered two of the three hits on his line, Kershaw was, well, Kershaw. He needed 124 pitches to complete seven innings, but when the Braves worked their way into hitter-friendly counts, the left-hander bogged down to stifle them. The National League Cy Young Award favorite issued three walks, but he also struck out a dozen, joining Sandy Koufax in the two-man club of the only Dodgers starters ever to notch double-digit punchouts in a series opener. Many of those strikeouts came on the slider, which was even filthier than usual.
Mattingly took no chances in the eighth and ninth, using setup man Brian Wilson and closer Kenley Jansen to record the last six outs. Wilson allowed a hit but nothing else to pad his 0.00 career postseason ERA, which now includes 12 2/3 innings, 11 2/3 of them during the Giants’ World Series run in 2010. Jansen fanned the side in the ninth, though he scattered a hit and a base on balls, which ran his pitch count up to 25. Nonetheless, both right-handers should be good to go in Friday’s Game Two.