Team win validates Kershaw's claim in NLDS opener

Team win validates Kershaw's claim in NLDS opener

WASHINGTON -- So this is what Clayton Kershaw was talking about.

Before Friday night's 4-3 victory over the Nationals in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, the ace left-hander called the 2016 edition of the Dodgers "the most complete team" he has played for. Then, his teammates went out and backed up that assertion.

Kershaw didn't exactly quiet his postseason detractors with five unsteady innings on Friday at Nationals Park. It marked the sixth time in his career that he allowed at least three runs in a postseason start.

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 7 LAD 4, WAS 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 9 WSH 5, LAD 2 video
Gm 3 Oct. 10 WAS 8, LAD 3 video
Gm 4 Oct. 11 LAD 6, WAS 5 video
Gm 5 Oct. 13 LAD 4, WSH 3 video

It also marked the first time in those six starts that the Dodgers won.

"Winning in the postseason, you kind of throw the stats out the window," Kershaw said. "So yeah, if I had pitched better tonight and we had lost, it doesn't feel good at all. But right now, I can smile and kind of exhale a little bit."

After 101 grueling pitches, Kershaw exited the contest having given up three earned runs on eight hits over five frames. He struck out seven, while his much-maligned postseason ERA climbed to 4.65.

"It was a grind," said Kershaw, who permitted a runner to reach scoring position in every inning but the first. "A lot of guys on base all the time. It definitely wasn't easy. It was definitely as close as you can bend without breaking."

Kershaw on his outing in Game 1

Added Nationals skipper Dusty Baker: "We had him on the ropes a couple times, and, you know, the big hit just escaped us."

It appeared at times that Kershaw was not quite on the same page as backstop Yasmani Grandal. The pair met on the mound several times, often after Kershaw had stepped off the rubber before an important pitch.

Kershaw fans Espinosa in the 5th

Turns out, the two simply needed to make certain they didn't have their signs crossed. With seven different Nationals having reached second base, Kershaw and Grandal felt the need to adjust them often.

"You always want to be in a rhythm, but making sure you're on the same page is more important," Kershaw said.

The veteran left-hander, who posted a 1.69 ERA in 21 regular-season outings, got off to a strong start, striking out the side in the first inning.

Kershaw escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second, before surrendering Anthony Rendon's two-run single in the third. He also allowed a leadoff fourth-inning double to Pedro Severino, who would later come around to score on Trea Turner's sacrifice fly.

"He kind of just lost the slot for the slider and didn't keep the counts where the curveball became an option," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "... But, you know, we picked him up one time."

Kershaw leaves them loaded

Indeed, they did.

Over the final four frames, the Dodgers' bullpen surrendered only one hit -- a cue-shot double in the eighth off the bat of Clint Robinson.

"We did a really good job of making him work, worked some deep counts on him," said Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth, who was stranded at third during that fateful fifth inning. "We got him out of the game after five. That's all you can ask for."

Jansen's five-out save

Kershaw's 101 pitches were the most he has thrown in a start since returning from a back injury in early September. He said his health wasn't an issue afterward. Now, the questions will undoubtedly shift to whether Kershaw might be able to pitch Game 4 on short rest.

This much is clear: Kershaw has never been more confident in his teammates' capacity to back him up.

"This was a complete team win tonight," Kershaw said. "We needed everybody. ... That's pretty special when you can say that on a night like tonight."

AJ Cassavell is in his sixth season as a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.