"I thought he was throwing good tonight, he had command, and just all of a sudden, it kind of fell apart," manager Don Mattingly said. "The game was going the right way we wanted it."
But Kershaw then allowed nine of the next 12 batters to reach base, including opposing pitcher Adam Wainwright twice on an RBI double and bases-loaded walk. It was the eighth time this year Kershaw lost a lead.
"If I get Wainwright out tonight, I probably give up one run the whole game," he said. "It's just frustrating."
After the Wainwright walk in a six-run sixth inning, Kershaw told Mattingly in a mound meeting that he felt fine. He was allowed to face another batter, former teammate Rafael Furcal, who chased Kershaw with an infield single that scored two runs. Second baseman Mark Ellis smothered the ball behind the bag, but his throw home hit the mound and bounced offline.
Catcher Matt Treanor said at one point he went out to tell Kershaw to get back into rhythm.
"He looked like he was rushing, and I haven't seen that from him," Treanor said. "He was speeding up. It seemed like nothing would go our way that inning."
Kershaw is 7-6, more losses than he had all last year. In 5 2/3 innings he was charged with eight earned runs (five scoring with two out), the last two scoring on Josh Lindblom's first pitch in relief, a double by Allen Craig. Kershaw's ERA jumped from 2.74 to 3.14.
Kershaw said he was fine physically and Mattingly said he didn't think Kershaw was out of gas. He made 105 pitches.
"The guy's a trained machine, in great shape," he said. "It looked like -- you never say cruising against a great lineup like theirs -- but you feel in pretty good shape. His pitch count was down and it looked like he'd go deep."
The Dodgers scored off Wainwright with one out in the fourth inning. Andre Ethier walked on four pitches, was singled to second by James Loney and scored on Juan Rivera's ground-rule double into the right-field corner. Loney stopped at third.
Luis Cruz ran his RBI streak to five games with a line single to left that brought home Loney with Rivera stopped at third.
Kershaw made two mistakes with none on and two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning, and it cost him the lead.
After going 0-2 with two called fastballs to Daniel Descalso, Kershaw met Treanor halfway to the plate to discuss what he wanted to do next.
"I was trying something I hadn't normally done and didn't execute," Kershaw said.
The slider he wanted at Descalso's hip wound up as a line single to center field and Kershaw was noticeably upset.
"I don't know if he kind of got frustrated by the hit -- two outs, 0-2," Mattingly said. "He tried to go front-door breaking ball. [Descalso] is a better hitter off lefties than righties. It was almost like he lost focus."
Wainwright was next and he laced an 0-1 fastball to the left-center gap for a double that scored Descalso.
Kershaw was asked if he was angry after the Descalso at-bat.
"I was frustrated with the at-bat, yeah," he said. "It didn't affect me the rest of the at-bats, but I definitely didn't want to give up any 0-2 hits."
Kershaw then jammed Furcal with a fastball, but he fought it off for a bloop single to score Wainwright and tie the game.
The Cardinals took the lead in a sixth inning that started with a walk to Matt Holliday.
"And we're in the soup," said Mattingly.
Carlos Beltran doubled just fair into the left-field corner and David Freese bounced a single past Cruz into center. Yadier Molina struck out for the first out, but on the pitch Freese stole second. Matt Carpenter flied out to shallow left field and the runners held second and third.
Kershaw then walked Descalso intentionally to bring up Wainwright, who walked on five pitches. On the mound, Wainwright, who went 7 1/3 innings, said the key to the game for him was a single by Jerry Hairston leading off the fifth inning.
"I said to myself out loud so I could hear it and try to believe it, 'I'm gonna be here all night. I'm not quitting. There's no quit in me tonight,'" he said. "'I'm going to make pitch after pitch after pitch and be here all night. All day and all night.' I just kept saying it. I was just kind of re-energized after that."
On a hot night and facing a six-run deficit, the Dodgers pulled Matt Kemp for rest after the top of the eighth inning. The All-Star center fielder is fine, but veteran infielder Adam Kennedy said after the game he's expecting to go on the disabled list after aggravating a lingering right groin injury while pinch-hitting in the seventh.