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Kershaw ready to grow up on big stage

Kershaw set to grow up on big stage

LOS ANGELES -- His stats do their best to draw your attention away from it.

The fact that he's starting Game 2 for the Dodgers against the Cardinals in the National League Division Series makes a compelling case that it's not an issue.

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But then there are these moments: Clayton Kershaw hopping out of his news conference chair and casually heading back to the protection of the Dodgers' clubhouse.

That's when you realize he's still just a kid -- an oversized one, at that.

At the age of 21 years, 203 days, Kershaw will become the 11th youngest pitcher to start a game in the playoffs when he takes the mound at Dodger Stadium on Thursday. Bret Saberhagen (20 years, 175 days) is the youngest to ever start in the postseason.

Game 2 will begin at 3:07 p.m. PT -- only about 15 hours after the conclusion of Wednesday's 6:37 p.m. start.

With the Dodgers up 1-0 in the series after their 5-3 win on Wednesday, Kershaw will have the opportunity to put the Cardinals in a hole few teams have dug themselves out of.

And, justifiably so, Kershaw's youth was a key topic during his and manager Joe Torre's news conferences leading up to Game 1.

Tale of the Tape
Game 2 starters
Cardinals' Adam Wainwright Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw
2009 REGULAR SEASON
Overall 34 GS, 19-8, 2.63 ERA, 66 BB, 212 K 30 GS, 8-8, 2.79 ERA, 91 BB, 185 K
Key stat Held hitters to .209 BA with RISP 4.8 walks per nine innings
POSTSEASON
Career 9 G, 1-0, 0 ER, 9.2 IP, 4 SV NR
AT DODGER STADIUM
2009 1 GS, 0-0, 2.57 16 GS, 3-4, 1.83
Career 4 G, 1-1, 5.60 27 GS, 6-6, 2.48
AGAINST THIS OPPONENT
2009 regular season 2 GS, 1-0, 1.20 2 GS, 0-0, 1.54
Career 8 G, 2-2, 3.13 4 GS, 1-0, 1.82
Loves to face Manny Ramirez, 0-for-5, 3 SO Ryan Ludwick, 1-for-9, 5 SO
Hates to face Russell Martin, 7-for-14, 2 2B, 2 RBI Albert Pujols, 4-for-7, 4 BB, 1 RBI
Why he'll win Went 12-1 away from Busch Stadium this year Too young to be intimidated
Pitcher beware Left-handed hitters batted .275 against him He can run his pitch count up and exit early
Bottom line No one won more games this year If he's accurate, watch out

After all, this is the postseason. It's one thing to perform beyond your years during the regular season, but the playoffs are a different story.

If Kershaw was an unknown commodity in the eyes of the nation before, the curtain will be ripped down Thursday.

"I think we've spent the last better part of two years trying to protect him and insulate him from all this exposure because he's just a kid," Torre said.

"Then you hand him the ball on Saturday and say, 'Here, kid.' And he comes back with the division title."

That's something that Kershaw can latch onto as he prepares for his start -- he's proved that pivotal moments aren't too big for him.

He struck out 10 batters in six shutout innings against the Rockies to lead the Dodgers to the NL West title.

He finished the season 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA -- good for seventh in the Majors. Maybe that's why he doesn't feel he has to justify his age Thursday.

"Any time you're given the responsibility to start in the postseason, there's obviously some added expectations there -- I don't think that has anything to do with age," Kershaw said.

While Torre referred to Kershaw as a "kid," he has repeated throughout the season that he doesn't view Kershaw like a normal 21-year-old.

Most 21-year-olds wouldn't have that veteran ability to brush off a bad start and move on to the next.

"He's had some ugly games, and to watch him come back from those games and pitch well in his next outing ... " Torre said. "He could have fallen off the planet at that point in time trying to overdo this and overdo that."

Kershaw showed off that narrow focus when asked which of his starts this season against the Cardinals he has used as a blueprint to get ready for Game 2.

On July 29, Kershaw shut out the Cardinals for eight innings, but on Aug. 19 he couldn't get out of the fourth inning. He gave up two runs, five hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings.

"I don't look at it a whole lot," Kershaw said. "I take what I did well out of one and what I did bad out of the other. That's about it. I don't really focus too much on what I do in the past."

Spoken a lot more like a 31-year-old than someone who just started legally buying beer in March.

Though there are still a few things that nag at you. That Torre called him a kid, and that so many people are ready to use age as the reason if anything goes awry against the Cardinals.

Sure, he's young. But there's something to be said about how Torre isn't treating Kershaw like someone who hasn't been here before.

"He hasn't really come up to me and said anything too different, and I think that's how he wants it," Kershaw said.

"He wants me to treat it like it's a regular start. I don't think he's going to come up and give any words of wisdom or anything like that, just because he doesn't want me to think any differently. And that's all I'm going to really do, think of it as a regular game with maybe a little more implications involved."

David Ely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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