Dodgers defeat Rockies and will head to playoffs with home-field advantage
On Saturday afternoon, the day of his 30th birthday, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen ambled into the visitors’ clubhouse and walked over to a few teammates seated at a table. Jansen knew the math — his team needed only one victory to clinch home-field advantage and ensure that the road to the 2017 World Series went through Dodger Stadium.
“That’s the only present I want,” Jansen told the group. “A freaking W on my birthday.”
It was far from pretty, but the Dodgers granted Jansen his wish in a 5-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies. The offense overcame a shaky, abbreviated finale from Clayton Kershaw as Yasiel Puig scored four runs, including one on a two-run homer.
Chris Taylor supplied two RBIs, both on groundouts, including a go-ahead grounder in the seventh inning. Jansen wrapped a bow on the night with a four-out save to guarantee the Dodgers (103-58) will finish the regular season with the best record in baseball in the majors, and with more victories than any Dodgers team since the franchise moved to Los Angeles.
In his final tuneup before the postseason, Kershaw spent a significant portion of the evening getting tuned up. He exited after four high-stress innings. The Rockies hung three runs on him, all in the second inning, and sprayed seven hits. Kershaw left on a relative high note, retiring the last five batters he faced.
Kershaw finished the season with an 18-4 record and a 2.31 earned-run average in 175 innings. The voters of the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America may reward Kershaw with his fourth National League Cy Young Award after the season. But as October approaches, Kershaw has not erased the doubt raised during his five-week absence because of a strained back.
Kershaw made six starts after coming off the disabled list Sept. 1. He had a 3.48 ERA during that period, with two duds against Colorado offsetting quality performances against lesser competition from San Diego and San Francisco. He will take the baseball Friday in Game 1 of a division series against Arizona or Colorado.
“I’m sure every year I feel like we’re going to win the World Series,” Kershaw said. “This year is no different.”
The team cast Saturday’s outing as a warmup, rather than a referendum. The Dodgers afforded Kershaw a relative amount of control for the night.
Earlier in the week, Kershaw was told he could decide the length of his outing, within reason. The outing lasted 57 pitches. Kershaw’s departure was dictated in part by the Rockies clubbing him around in the early going.
As Kershaw warmed up in the left-field grass, the Coors Field videoboard aired the ninth inning of Milwaukee’s game in St. Louis. The Brewers had gagged away a six-run lead, opening the door for Colorado to clinch the second wild-card spot. Kershaw watched as Brewers outfielder Brett Phillips struck out to end Milwaukee’s playoff hopes. Kool and the Gang instructed the mostly empty stadium to celebrate good times.
Inside the Colorado clubhouse, the Rockies staged a dry bash, with champagne to follow later in the night. The game itself would have to wait. The first pitch was delayed by 21 minutes because of concern about a rain storm that never came. The Dodgers suspected the wait was designed to allow the Rockies to savor their achievement.
The prospect of a party did not distract the Rockies at the outset. Kershaw worked around two hits in the first inning.
He fared worse in the second. An 0-and-1 slider arrived at the waist of outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. The ball landed in the seats beyond the right-field fence.
It was the 23rd homer given up by Kershaw. Before 2017, he had never given up more than 16 in one year. Across the majors, hitters have produced a record number of home runs. The wave has crested over Kershaw.
Kershaw prefers to locate his sliders in the lower portion of the strike zone, where they can induce groundballs, if the hitter makes contact at all. When the pitch is elevated, it can soar. Gonzalez offered a reminder of that.
“They did what they’re supposed to do with mistakes,” Kershaw said.
The hits did not cease. After a single by outfielder Ian Desmond, Kershaw made another mistake to catcher Jonathan Lucroy. His curveball bubbled over the middle. Lucroy smashed it into left field for a run-scoring double.
The lineup turned over, which forced Kershaw to face Charlie Blackmon again. Blackmon wasted no time. He laced a first-pitch fastball into right field for a run-scoring hit, as Colorado’s lead expanded to three runs.
“I just battled through this one,” Kershaw said. “I felt good. I felt my stuff was OK. No sense thinking about it now. Got to get ready for Friday.”
Puig led the charge to tie the score. He opened the third inning with a walk, raced to third base on a single by Chase Utley and scored on a groundout by Taylor.
Two innings later, Curtis Granderson rolled an opposite-field single through the infield to sneak aboard. Puig stepped in against German Marquez for the second time. Marquez flung a 96-mph fastball down the middle. Puig hit it on a line into the Rockies bullpen to even the score.
“We showed how special we can be,” Jansen said. “When we get locked down and focused, I don’t think anybody can beat us.”
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