Chicago dominates Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers to win the NLCS, 4-2
For the past three weeks, as the Dodgers crawled through these playoffs, Clayton Kershaw acted as a one-man cordon, capable of holding off his opponents and offsetting the mistakes of his teammates. On the final night of the Dodgers' 2016 season, in a 5-0 loss to the Cubs in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, he could do neither.
Chicago mauled Kershaw for five runs in five innings. The Dodgers' offense never materialized against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. And as Wrigley Field swayed in the aftermath, with 42,000 fans howling “Go Cubs Go,” three dozen men in Dodgers uniforms emptied their dugout and prepared for the winter.
For the first time since 1945, the Cubs are headed back to the World Series. For the 28th year in a row, the Dodgers are headed home before the Fall Classic.
The Dodgers surged into control of the National League West while Kershaw mended a herniated disk for 10 weeks. But in October, the team reverted to its former state. They could go only as far as Kershaw could take them. Before Saturday, the team was unbeaten in playoff games in which Kershaw appeared and 1-5 in the rest.
Kershaw entered this October with questions about his resiliency in the postseason. He squashed some of those with his performance earlier this week, when he pitched four times in a 10-day span.
Only nine days ago, he stood in the center of Nationals Park with his arms raised aloft. He secured the final two outs of a first-round clincher, and his teammates engulfed him. His face wore a mixture of exhaustion and joy. The postseason had only just begun, and Kershaw would soon remember how fickle it can be.
Before the game, Manager Dave Roberts made no bold proclamations. But he did reveal something that pointed to his optimism. His father, Waymon, and his teenage son, Cole, were in Phoenix, where Cole was playing in a baseball tournament. Both had tickets to fly to Chicago for Game 7.
“A sign of confidence,” Roberts said with a grin, as his team completed batting practice. “I already bought the tickets.”
The real reason to believe would emerge from the dugout a few minutes later. Kershaw ascended the steps and walked into the outfield. He stretched by himself as fans filtered into the bleachers. He had silenced the Cubs for seven innings in Game 2. The Dodgers needed something similar in the sequel.
It was not to be. On the third pitch of the game, Kershaw pumped a slider at the belt. Outfielder Dexter Fowler flicked a line drive down the right-field line. The ball kissed the inside of the paint and bounced over the bricks for a ground-rule double. Giving chase, right fielder Josh Reddick shook his head.
Three pitches later, third baseman Kris Bryant reached across the plate, dug out a low fastball and sent an RBI single into right field. The crowd was already alive, braying Kershaw’s name, elongating the syllables like playground bullies. Now the ballpark shook. It would only get worse.
After five fastballs to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Kershaw tried a slider. Rizzo hit a drive into the gap between left fielder Andrew Toles and center fielder Joc Pederson. Toles settled underneath it. He raised his glove. At the last moment, as the ball approached the leather, he shifted his eyes to the diamond. He never saw the ball clip his glove and fall to the ground.
Kershaw did. He stuck out his tongue, but managed to shield his dismay. Both runners advanced into scoring position. Bryant scored on a subsequent sacrifice fly by outfielder Ben Zobrist. The torment of the inning lasted 30 pitches.
The elements appeared aligned against the Dodgers. Midway through an at-bat in the second inning, a rogue firework erupted beyond center field as Pederson stood at the plate. Pederson tried to protest the strike that followed from Hendricks. Umpire Ted Barrett offered no relief.
As bombs burst in the night, the Dodgers stepped on their own toes, incapable of avoiding unforced mistakes. The top of the second ended when Reddick was picked off first base. To add some annoyance to the mix: Reddick reached base when second baseman Javier Baez bobbled a groundball. Even when the Cubs made errors, the Dodgers topped them with gaffes of their own.
Reddick’s inattention came with Yasmani Grandal at the plate, and cost the club a chance to tie the game with one swing. That chance would not arise again soon.
For Kershaw, the agony was not limited to the first inning. Shortstop Addison Russell greeted him in the second inning by stinging a leadoff double into the ivy along the left-field wall. With two outs, Kershaw picked up two strikes on Fowler. But he left an 0-2 fastball over the middle, and Fowler pulled it into left field for an RBI single.
Hendricks had given up a hit on the first pitch he threw when Toles roped a single. But Hendricks erased Toles on the next pitch, an 87-mph sinker that Corey Seager bounced into a double play.
Hendricks led the National League in earned-run average this year, and he does not overwhelm his opponents. He thrives on soft contact and pristine command. Earlier in the week, Kershaw compared him to Greg Maddux. Hendricks faced the minimum through seven innings. He departed when Reddick singled in the eighth.
As Hendricks twirled a gem, Kershaw found his evening only worsening. In the bottom of the fourth, he tried to spin a slider aimed at the back foot of catcher Willson Contreras. His aim was not true. The pitch was elevated over the plate. Contreras ripped it over the left-field fence for a solo shot.
Kershaw was toiling without mastery of his weapons. He could not induce swings with his curveball. He could not locate his slider. And he could not fool the Cubs with his fastball. He dropped into a sidearm during the fifth, trying to fool Rizzo with a trick he learned from teammate Rich Hill. Rizzo re-directed the fastball into the bleachers for another solo homer.
Down five, Kershaw left the game on his own accord. He struck out Zobrist for the third out and shuffled toward his dugout. He kept his head down as the ballpark vibrated with noise. He slipped out of sight, his season finished, his legacy still undetermined.
TOP OF NINTH: CUBS 5, DODGERS 0
It's over. The Dodgers' 2016 season ended Saturday night at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks shut them out for 7 1/3 innings, and Aroldis Chapman finished it off in the ninth. Carlos Ruiz worked a one-out walk, but pinch-hitter Yasiel Puig grounded into a double play on the first pitch he saw, and this stadium went crazy.
The Cubs won, 5-0. They beat the Dodgers in this series four games to two.
BOTTOM OF EIGHTH: CUBS 5, DODGERS 0
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts stuck with Kenley Jansen for a third inning, and Jansen again shut down the Cubs. Kris Bryant struck out, Anthony Rizzo lined out to center, and Ben Zobrist grounded out to second base.
Here it goes. Unless the Dodgers score five or more runs in the top of the ninth inning, their season is over.
TOP OF EIGHTH: CUBS 5, DODGERS 0
Kyle Hendricks finally allowed another hit, to Josh Reddick with one out in this eighth inning, and Cubs Manager Joe Maddon immediately pulled him for closer Aroldis Chapman.
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts countered by pinch-hitting Howie Kendrick for Joc Pederson. Kendrick grounded into a double play on Chapman’s third pitch. It’s still 5-0, and the Dodgers have just three outs left.
BOTTOM OF SEVENTH: CUBS 5, DODGERS 0
In for one more inning, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen set down the Cubs in order. Albert Almora Jr. struck out, Kyle Hendricks flied out to right, and Dexter Fowler struck out. Hendricks is going to begin the eighth, and, at this point, it seems plausible he could complete the game.
TOP OF SEVENTH: CUBS 5, DODGERS 0
Kyle Hendricks has encountered absolutely no trouble in this game. Facing the Dodgers’ lineup a third time, he began by inducing a pop-up from Andrew Toles. Corey Seager then struck out and Justin Turner popped out in foul territory.
Hendricks has faced the minimum number of Dodgers. The Cubs have six outs to go.
BOTTOM OF SIXTH
In a rare sixth-inning appearance, Kenley Jansen got Javier Baez to ground out, Willson Contreras to fly out, and Addison Russell to strike out swinging.
Jansen will likely handle another inning. The Dodgers have nine outs left to score at least five runs.
TOP OF SIXTH: CUBS 5, DODGERS 0
Kyle Hendricks struck out Yasmani Grandal, induced a weak groundout to second base from Chase Utley, and got another groundout from Andre Ethier, who was pinch-hitting for Clayton Kershaw.
Hendricks has thrown only 71 pitches. Outside of the very first pitch of this game, he has not yielded a hit nor allowed a walk. It’s been a remarkable performance, and he has exhibited no signs of tiring yet.
Closer Kenley Jansen is going to pitch the bottom of the sixth inning. The Dodgers trail, 5-0.
BOTTOM OF FIFTH: CUBS 5, DODGERS 0
Clayton Kershaw still could not cruise through an inning against this talented Chicago lineup. He struck out Dexter Fowler, lucked out on a line drive from Kris Bryant, then yielded a sizable shot to Anthony Rizzo. The baseball departed the field of play for a solo home run. Kershaw has thrown 93 pitches through five innings, and his spot in the Dodgers’ order is due up third in the sixth inning, so his night — and, potentially his season — could be done.
The Cubs lead this game by five runs.
Anthony Rizzo hits one deep, 5-0 Cubs. If Chick Hearn were here, he's be preparing to say a certain phrase soon.
TOP OF FIFTH: CUBS 4, DODGERS 0
Kyle Hendricks is dominating the Dodgers. Adrian Gonzalez grounded out, Josh Reddick popped out in foul territory, and Joc Pederson struck out swinging. Hendricks, at just 55 pitches through five innings, has still faced the minimum number of batters. The Dodgers are running out of chances.
BOTTOM OF FOURTH: CUBS 4, DODGERS 0
Willson Contreras hit Clayton Kershaw’s second pitch of the fourth inning, a sitting slider, off the left-field foul pole for a solo shot. Addison Russell quickly grounded out to first, Albert Almora Jr grounded out to shortstop, and Kyle Hendricks grounded out to third, around the horn.
Kershaw has thrown 73 pitches. The Cubs lead the Dodgers, 4-0.
You can hear Dodgers watch parties ending all over Los Angeles as Willson Contreras launches a Kershaw pitch into the left field bleachers. 4-0 Cubs