CHICAGO -- "I'm not going in with any restrictions," Clayton Kershaw said. And you believe him, because, well, he's Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers on Saturday officially named the left-hander their starter for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series (Sunday, 8 p.m. ET/5 PT on FS1) against righty Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Los Angeles will be trying to even the series after taking an 8-4 loss in the opener.
The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner will be three days removed from a dramatic two-out save in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Nationals, which came two days after a 110-pitch start in Game 4, four days after throwing 101 pitches in Game 1.
"It's not complicated. … If he feels good, then it's a no-brainer," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "It's just more of just getting assurance that he feels good physically, which he does. When you get a chance for Clayton to pitch Games 2 and potentially [Game] 6, that's a good thing for us and. It's full-go."
"There's no excuses at this point," Kershaw said.
Roberts had hinted Friday that Game 2 could be Kershaw's, but the Dodgers were all of 15 hours removed from punching their NLCS ticket at that point. The decision was not cemented until the two met behind closed doors Saturday afternoon.
Even then, the Dodgers were not even two full days removed from Kershaw's Madison Bumgarner moment in Game 5 of the NLDS. The Dodgers had called upon closer Kenley Jansen to protect a one-run lead in the seventh inning, and Jansen pitched into the ninth until his tiring legs did not allow him to pitch any longer. In came Kershaw for a save in every sense of the word.
While Jansen toiled up to and past the 50-pitch mark, Kershaw was quietly lobbying to get himself into a game he wasn't supposed to pitch. Roberts had said before that decisive Game 5 that everyone on his roster was available but Kershaw, who had thrown 110 pitches in Game 4 two days earlier. But as Jansen labored to escape a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, Kershaw approached pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and offered to work in relief if he was needed. When Honeycutt didn't provide the answer Kershaw was looking for, he went to Roberts.
When the Dodgers' medical staff approved, Kershaw strode toward the dugout in spikes after the eighth inning.
"It almost gave me goosebumps," Los Angeles infielder Justin Turner said.
There were more goosebumps to come. In the ninth, Jansen's fatiguing legs leading to a pair of one-out walks, Roberts called upon Kershaw for the matchup the manager had circled on his scorecard; NL MVP Award candidate and October machine Daniel Murphy had driven in four of the runs on Kershaw's record in Game 4, and homered twice against Kershaw in last year's NLDS when Murphy played for the Mets. But Kershaw won the matchup this time, jamming Murphy with a fastball for a popup. Kershaw then struck out rookie pinch-hitter Wilmer Difo to send the Dodgers to the NLCS.
He recorded those final two outs on seven pitches. Including his warmup, Kershaw said, it was not too far removed from his workload in a between-starts bullpen session. Thursday happened to be his usual throw day.
"Intensity might have been just a hair different," Kershaw said, cracking a smile.
It was a legacy-making moment for a pitcher who has been the game's best this decade in the regular season, but has endured mixed results in the postseason that add up to a pedestrian 4.79 ERA, but a terrific 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Kershaw's relief stint conjured memories of Bumgarner's save in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series after winning Games 1 and 5. And Randy Johnson retiring the final four Yankees in Game 7 of the '01 World Series, the day after he won Game 6.
In his typical deadpan, Kershaw said he was "thankful that it happened." While the Dodgers celebrated, Kershaw said, Dodgers utility man Charlie Culberson saw the baseball lying on the ground, and he pocketed it for Kershaw's memorabilia collection.
"But as far as reflecting on it or anything like that, it's just -- you just can't do it right now," Kershaw said. "It doesn't really matter at this point. I know the Cubs don't care.
"They know that we're trying to beat them just as bad as they're trying to beat us, and that's what we're focused on right now."
Adam McCalvy has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.