LOS ANGELES (AP) — With Sandy Koufax sitting in the front row, Clayton Kershaw pitched the best postseason game of his career, motivated partly by being passed over as the Dodgers’ Game 1 starter.
He responded with a postseason career-high eight innings of two-hit ball in his team’s second straight playoff shutout, and Manny Machado slugged a two-run homer as Los Angeles beat the Atlanta Braves 3-0 on Friday night for a 2-0 lead in their NL Division Series.
“I think that it was one of the best outings that I’ve seen,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He was in complete control.”
The Dodgers used a nearly identical formula to win 6-0 in Game 1 behind Hyun-Jin Ryu, who allowed only four two-out singles over seven innings, and home runs by Joc Pederson, Max Muncy and Enrique Hernandez.
Kershaw was even better. The left-hander struck out three and walked none in the longest scoreless playoff outing for a Dodgers pitcher since Jose Lima tossed a complete-game shutout in Game 3 of the 2004 NLDS against St. Louis.
“Maybe a tick, for sure,” Kershaw said of earning some extra satisfaction. “But Ryu threw so unbelievable last night that you just want to match him. That’s all I was trying to do.”
Ryu and Kershaw became the second pair of Dodgers starters to have consecutive postseason games with seven-plus scoreless innings. Jerry Reuss and Burt Hooton did it in 1981, against Houston and Montreal.
The Dodgers joined the 1921 New York Yankees as the only teams to open a postseason series with back-to-back shutouts, according to STATS. They recorded their first consecutive shutouts since Games 2 and 3 of the 2016 NL Championship Series against the Cubs.
Los Angeles can sweep the best-of-five series in Game 3 on Sunday in Atlanta, where the Baby Braves will be looking to score for the first time this postseason.
“I see the frustration those guys have against this guy,” Braves starter Anibal Sanchez said of his teammates facing Kershaw.
Kershaw got bypassed as the Game 1 starter in favor of Ryu after the three-time Cy Young Award winner had started eight of the Dodgers’ past 10 postseason openers. Roberts said it was done to give both Ryu and Kershaw five days of rest between starts.
“This guy is a potential Hall of Fame player,” Roberts said. “So to have the noise around him, but when it comes to his day to start and to help his club win a game, I had no concern that anything was going to affect him.”
One more victory would put Los Angeles in the NLCS for the third straight year. The Dodgers beat the Cubs last season and lost to them in 2016.
Kershaw ran out to the mound as though he was going to pitch the ninth, bringing cheers from the sellout crowd of 54,452. But when Roberts went out to pull his ace after 85 pitches, fans booed.
Roberts deked to force the hand of Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who ended up wasting Tyler Flowers before sending up Lucas Duda as the pinch-hitter.
“I felt that that was a way that you can use their two best hitters off the bench and get our guy in there,” Roberts said.
Kershaw was fine with it, too.
“The plan all along was if they burned their bench, which is what we wanted to do and Flowers came out, that Kenley had the ninth,” he said.
Kenley Jansen gave up a one-out single to Ronald Acuna Jr. before earning the save.
Machado hit a two-run shot on a 3-0 pitch from Sanchez with two outs in the first. Joc Pederson doubled leading off.
Yasmani Grandal homered on an 0-2 pitch from Sanchez leading off the fifth to make it 3-0.
Acuna doubled to deep left-center on Kershaw’s first pitch. He became the first Braves runner to reach third base in the series when Johan Camargo grounded out to Kershaw.
After Acuna’s double, Kershaw retired 14 consecutive batters until Ender Inciarte reached on an infield single with two outs in the fifth. Ex-Dodger Charlie Culberson grounded into a fielder’s choice to shortstop, with Inciarte out at second.
“He has a feel for everything and when his curveball’s on, it’s going to be a good night for him,” Culberson said. “He’s one of the best, and he showed it.”
Kershaw was sharp on defense, too.
He chased around to grab a ball hit by Camargo and fired to first in time for the initial out of the fourth.
One inning later, Kershaw did a 180-degree spin after a comebacker by Ozzie Albies struck him in the hamstring, slipped on the grass and made the throw to first for the second out of the fifth. A trainer briefly came out to check on Kershaw, who threw one warmup pitch to prove he was fine.
“It just got me in a good spot, kind of in the belly of the leg right there,” Kershaw said, “so maybe a little sore tomorrow, but I should be good.”
The Dodgers backed Kershaw with a double play to end the sixth after he plunked pinch-hitter Lane Adams leading off and Acuna Jr. grounded into a fielder’s choice.
“A lot of great plays all the way around,” Kershaw said.
The Braves’ offense was anemic again.
Other than Acuna’s double and his single in the ninth, they were limited to a two-out single by Inciarte in the fifth. Freddie Freeman was hitless with a strikeout in four at-bats. Nick Markakis went 0 for 3 with a strikeout, and Albies was 0 for 3.
“You can’t blame any one person,” Snitker said. “I mean, it’s just our whole lineup is having a hard time.”
Kershaw juggled daughter Cali and son Charley on his lap in the postgame interview room. With a pacifier in his mouth, Charley bopped the microphone with his hand a couple of times and Cali smiled at the crowd of reporters and cameras.
“Y’all are supposed to be in bed,” Kershaw said, clearly pleased to have his hands full.
With their season on the line, the NL East champion Braves are likely to start RHP Kevin Gausman on Sunday. He came over from Baltimore before the July 31 trade deadline in a six-player deal and was 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 10 starts for Atlanta.
The Dodgers are going with rookie RHP Walker Buehler, who was 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA this season. Buehler last pitched on Monday, allowing one hit in 6 2/3 innings and striking out three in the NL West tiebreaker victory over the Rockies.
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