Adrian Gonzalez stopped a few feet from first base, turned toward the Dodgers dugout and pumped his fist. With one swing, he had rescued his manager.
Standing on the steps in the ninth inning of a 4-2 victory, Dave Roberts saluted his first baseman. He would not wear the weight of a defeat. His team flew to Chicago late Sunday evening with six victories in the last seven games after capturing this series over the Mets.
"These guys are resilient," Roberts said. "There's been some adversity earlier. They're banding together. They're not letting a lot of things affect them."
The offense provided a swift answer after a pitching change by Roberts backfired. In the eighth inning of the 51st game of the season, Roberts visited Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the first time in his managerial career. The two men did not have a conversation.
Kershaw fumed into his glove as Roberts informed the umpire about his call to the bullpen. Kershaw clutched the baseball in his left hand, aware that his ownership of the evening would soon end. He looked away from Roberts as he bequeathed control. The Dodgers (27-24) would soon pay for his departure.
With two outs and left-handed hitter Curtis Granderson batting, Roberts took the baseball away from Kershaw, the sport's finest pitcher. He did not hand it to closer Kenley Jansen, who was warmed up in the bullpen. Roberts chose left-hander Adam Liberatore.
Liberatore surrendered a game-tying triple. The hit diminished the line on Kershaw, who went 72/3 innings, gave up two runs, struck out 10 and walked none. But Mets closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for the second time this weekend in the top of the ninth inning. With the bases loaded, Gonzalez stroked a 99-mph fastball into center field to reclaim the lead.
"There was no emotional letdown," Gonzalez said.
Kershaw finished a month of extraordinary brilliance. He went 5-0 in May with an earned-run average of 0.91. He had more shutouts (three) than walks issued (two). He collected his 100th strikeout of the season, and his five walks on the season are the fewest by any pitcher when recording that milestone in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His strikeout-to-walk ratio: 21-to-1.
"It's a big, unfathomable number right there, that ratio," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Despite the gaudy statistics, Kershaw underwent a taxing evening Sunday. He gave up a leadoff double by Granderson in a scoreless but high-stress first inning. He allowed a home run to Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on a curveball in the sixth.
After throwing 105 pitches through seven, Kershaw held a one-run lead. He allowed a single to catcher Kevin Plawecki. He retired the next two hitters, but behind him the bullpen activated. After pinch-hitter Michael Conforto lined out to center, on Kershaw's 114th pitch, Roberts left the dugout. Kershaw was not pleased.
"I think managers appreciate when you don't want to come out of the game," Kershaw said. "Obviously, I didn't want to. I never really do. But you know what? He's making the decisions. You've just got to respect it."
Roberts sensed fatigue. Granderson was hitting .217 in his career against Kershaw. But he had seen him well in his first at-bat, and the force of Conforto's out caught Roberts' attention.
"I know Clayton's the best in the game," Roberts said. "But at 114 pitches, I made that decision to go to a guy who's dominated lefties all year long."
Roberts did not gain a major advantage by choosing Liberatore over a right-hander like Jansen. Granderson entered the at-bat hitting .209 this season against righties and .188 against lefties.
Liberatore had given up three hits to left-handed batters in 2016. He would soon allow a fourth. Granderson smashed a hanging slider. An acrobatic attempt by Yasiel Puig led to a collision with the right-field wall, but no out.
Inside the dugout, Kershaw looked dumbstruck. Roberts stroked his chin. In the bullpen, Jansen ceased warming up.
On two occasions the previous weekend in San Diego, Roberts asked Jansen to collect a four-out save. Jansen blew both opportunities, but he had not lost his thirst for work. Roberts suggested after the game that a multi-inning save for Jansen should occur only about once a month.
A lifesaver for the Dodgers emerged in the form of Familia. Enrique Hernandez led off with a single. Corey Seager and Justin Turner walked. Gonzalez expected a four-seam fastball inside and pounced on one.
Even before the rally, Roberts explained himself to Kershaw in the dugout. He understood his ace's frustration. Absorbing the anger is part of Roberts' job.
"That's OK," Roberts said. "That's what makes him great."