Adrian Gonzalez hit a home run in the second inning off regular-season NL ERA leader Kyle Hendricks, and there was Kershaw's lone run. Gonzalez has homered in six consecutive postseason series, one shy of the Major League record, with three of the homers providing go-ahead runs.
With no margin for error -- three days after his first save, five days after his last start, which came four days after his previous one -- Kershaw made the homer stand, but only barely, as a laser lineout to the track in center by Javier Baez ended the seventh.
Manager Dave Roberts went right to Kenley Jansen for a six-out save, only three days after Jansen's 51-pitch setup of Kershaw's save in the NL Division Series clincher.
"To see how Kersh takes this team on his back, you just want to go out there and give it the extra inch and try to get the win," said Jansen.
This postseason, Kershaw has thrown 19 1/3 innings in three starts and one historic save over 10 days, continuing to rewrite a reputation tarnished by previous October troubles. After losing Game 1 of the NLCS, 8-4, the Dodgers turned to their ace to prevent going down, 0-2, in the best-of-seven series that switches to Los Angeles for games Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
The only games the Dodgers have won this postseason are the games in which Kershaw has pitched.
"It's a good feeling," said Kershaw. "I don't know how to rank games or anything like that, but we needed this win tonight bad, and going back home after splitting [the two games] in Chicago, we like where we're at right now, and it feels good to get that win."
The left-hander retired the first 14 batters he faced before Baez -- who else? -- singled to left. Rookie Willson Contreras followed with another base hit but Kershaw got Jason Heyward to pop up and end the fifth. According to Elias, Kershaw tied Jerry Reuss (Game 2, 1981 NLDS) and Sandy Koufax (Game 1, 1963 World Series) for the longest no-hit bid by a Dodgers pitcher in the postseason at 4 2/3 innings.
"He's done an unbelievable job this postseason, coming back from the lower back injury and just getting better and better as he went at the end of the year, toward the postseason," said catcher Yasmani Grandal. "He did a great job today, he executed pitches, and it goes to show why he's one of the best pitchers in the league."
"Give him credit, man," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "I thought he pitched primarily with his fastball. The thing that I was really curious about was velocity and location before the game, and he had both. ... He kept the ball off the fat part of our bat. He threw strikes like he normally does. So despite not having rest, his command and velocity were still good."
The biggest play came with two outs in the seventh, when Kershaw got Baez to line out to deep center and strand a runner at first. Statcast™ data says that balls hit with the same exit velocity (102.5 mph) and launch angle (24 degrees) as Baez's have gone for a home run 67 percent of the time in 2016. The batting average with those parameters is .899.
Kershaw entered that inning with a career 23.82 ERA in the seventh in the postseason. Roberts greeted his pitcher at the top of the dugout with a huge smile.
"Off the bat, I thought it was something bad, for sure," said Kershaw. "I kind of had a mini-stroke right there. I thought that it was at least off the wall, at least a double. I had a slight panic moment, for sure."
"With him pitching on a couple days' rest, I didn't think he'd be that nasty," Baez said, "but he came ready for us and he just did his job."
By then, Jansen was already warming up and ready for a seventh-inning entry, having discussed the scenario with Roberts before the game. With a one-run lead, there was never consideration of going back to setup man Joe Blanton, who served up the game-losing grand slam to Miguel Montero in Game 1.
"I just think that for us to have our ace on the mound, to have a lead, and I know that Kenley's on board for multiple [innings]," said Roberts. "And where they were at in the order, I know it was the bottom half, seven, eight and nine, but I felt that Kenley was ready, mentally, physically, and I just felt that it was obviously not a must-win game, but it was a game we really wanted to have, especially when Clayton threw the ball the way he did."
Sunday also was significant in that it was the first playoff game between two starting pitchers with regular-season ERAs below 2.25 since the Cardinals' Bob Gibson and Tigers' Denny McLain met in 1968. The five total hits in Game 2 were one off the fewest combined hits in a postseason game since 1913.
Kershaw now is 5-6 in the postseason.
"Tip your hat," Chicago's Jake Arrieta said. "We had some balls that were well-hit in the gaps, and they ran them down. It was an opposite-field homer that beat us on a pretty good pitch. You never feel good about a loss, but the way Kyle pitched and the way our bullpen came in and held it down for us, even though we were down, we were one swing away, which was a good spot to be in, especially in the bottom of the ninth."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Lone threat: Kershaw used Heyward as his safety valve in the fifth inning. After allowing a line single to Baez that broke up the perfect game, followed by a Contreras single up the middle, he got Heyward on a foul popup to third baseman Justin Turner. Heyward came into the game 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in his regular-season career against Kershaw.
Good instincts: Baez continued to shine. Besides ending Kershaw's no-hit bid, he then made a heads-up defensive play in the Dodgers' sixth. Los Angeles had runners at first and second with one out, and Carl Edwards Jr. in to pitch for Hendricks. Joc Pederson lofted the ball toward Baez at second, and Baez let it drop in front of him. Baez then fired to shortstop Addison Russell for the force at second, and Russell then threw to third baseman Kris Bryant as Gonzalez was caught in a rundown. Russell eventually made the tag, which ended the inning.
"As soon as the ball was hit, the runners went back, and I saw [Joc Pederson] running down the line," Baez said. "I had to get one. With Gonzalez, he came back to the bag, and I was just telling Addy, 'Go three, go three.'"
Start me up: Hendricks was making his second postseason start this month. He'd lasted 3 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Giants after being struck on the right forearm by Angel Pagan's liner. On Sunday, Hendricks scattered three hits, including Gonzalez's home run, but walked four, matching his single-game high this season.
"With that guy on the other side, that's what you have to expect going into a game like that," Hendricks said. "I wasn't sharp, really, and my fastball command wasn't great. I battled through it. I didn't get deep in the game like I wanted to."
No harm, no foul: Grandal got away with an error in the bottom of the seventh, when he misjudged Ben Zobrist's popup behind the plate and dropped it to prolong the at-bat. Kershaw, though, struck Zobrist out looking.
"I thought it was in front of home plate," said Grandal. "I get out there I see it carried to the backstop. I started running back there, I see [Gonzalez], think he's going to catch it, and then it's right there. After that, my thought is make two more pitches and get this guy out. [Kershaw is] a veteran, likes big-time situations, lucky for us, [Zobrist] fouled off the next pitch and [then Kershaw] struck him out."
"Our state of mind is, we won 103 [games in the regular season], 106 to get to [the NLCS], and we won 107 [Saturday] night. We have to get 108 Tuesday night in L.A. That's our mindset. This was one game, and you can't do anything about it now. It was a well-played baseball game, we didn't give it to them. You get beat, that's how you want to get beat." -- Heyward, on the series being tied at 1.
WHAT'S NEXT Dodgers:Rich Hill was named to start Game 3, with a 5 p.m. PT first pitch on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Hill, on short rest, started for the Dodgers in the epic Game 5 of the NL Division Series vs. the Nationals, allowing one run in 2 2/3 innings with six strikeouts. That came after allowing four runs in 4 1/3 innings in a Game 2 loss to Washington. Although he had a 1.83 ERA in six starts with the Dodgers, he's been on a short leash recently, in part because of concern over finger blisters.
Cubs: After a workout day Monday in Los Angeles, Arrieta will start Game 3 on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, which is one of the right-hander's favorite ballparks. He threw his first career no-hitter there in August 2015. In Game 3 of the NLDS vs. the Giants, Arrieta helped himself by hitting a three-run homer, but did not get the win. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.