LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw had just recorded the first home postseason victory of his career Friday night when he was asked, in the most delicate of ways, what the heck went wrong in the seventh inning, when on back-to-back pitches he allowed his third and fourth D-backs home runs of the night.
"No excuses. I gave up too many home runs tonight," said Kershaw, who got the win while also getting knocked around as the Dodgers won Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, 9-5.
He went on to say that "It just wasn't coming out as good as I would have liked it to that last inning."
"They hit some good pitches. I just didn't have much left, I don't know," Kershaw said. "Hopefully when you give up hits, maybe one or two would stay in the ballpark. But tonight it didn't seem like that was going to happen. Obviously, a frustrating way to end it, but thankfully we had a big lead."
So the Dodgers take the win, knowing that if there's a Game 5 it will be started by Kershaw, but not really knowing what that means at this point. Since returning from a lower back strain with six scoreless innings on Sept. 1, he has allowed nine home runs in 34 innings. The career-high 23 homers he served up this season were eight more than his previous high in 57 fewer innings pitched.
He can still be overpowering at times, as he was striking out six of the first nine batters he faced. He did go 18-4 with an NL-leading 2.31 ERA. But when he misses nowadays, he gets punished.
"I think we had a good game plan," said Arizona manager Torey Lovullo. "We hit four home runs off him. That's the first time in his career [actually second] that's happened. We have a lot of positives that we're going to focus on. And I know that our group of guys right now are feeling OK about their approach off him, and the results are there. You score some runs off of him the way we did, it helps build a little confidence."
Kershaw said his breaking pitches were good early, but the last couple of innings "were the rough ones." His fastball hit 95 mph several times in the first two innings, but velocity dipped as the game progressed and he became reluctant to throw the slider or curve.
"I thought the fastball velocity early, very good, was arm side mostly," said manager Dave Roberts. "Some balls in on the right-hander. In on the lefties. Some good curveballs and the slider early was OK, and I think towards the fourth, fifth and sixth it just wasn't there. So he was certainly going to that fastball."
By the time Kershaw had reached 100 pitches and Roberts had gone to the bullpen, the D-backs had trimmed a 7-1 lead to 7-4. Kershaw was charged with four runs in 6 1/3 innings, seven strikeouts (six of the first nine batters) but also three walks. Two of the three double plays the Dodgers turned were behind Kershaw.
The back, which sidelined him last year with a herniated disk, remains the elephant in the room and is probably the reason management seems determined not to pitch him on short rest. When asked about the back, Kershaw said it was, "Good. Thank you."
Roberts said before the game that Kershaw was as healthy and strong as he's been since returning from the disabled list, and after the game reiterated that he doesn't think about the back as he's managing Kershaw's games.
But while Kershaw wasn't technically beaten in this game, the D-backs don't think he's invincible.
"You got to pull the positives out of a game like this for sure and that's one thing that sticks out in my mind for sure, the fact that we came back and made a ball game of it," said Jeff Mathis, who homered along with A.J. Pollock, J.D. Martinez and Ketel Marte. "They know that over there."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.