Clayton Kershaw laced the ball into the outfield, and into the deepest part of the outfield. Just beyond the fence, in right-center, the forest gives way to the visiting bullpen.
This is triples alley. Kershaw thought triple. He had other thoughts too. Don’t make another baserunning blunder. Don’t forget where you are, rounding the bases in a mile-high stadium.
“It’s Coors Field,” he said. “You don’t breathe as well.”
In a weekend in which the Dodgers are playing for first place, and playing without closer Kenley Jansen, they needed every out they could get from Kershaw. He needed to pitch, and keep pitching, in a place that has not treated him and his fellow pitchers kindly.
He thought about it all, and he stopped at second base.
“He did a great job of turning a triple into a double,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Kershaw got the double. He got through the sixth inning. He got a lead to the bullpen.
And, with Jansen watching from home, a collection of arms made the lead hold up in a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies. The last time the Dodgers were here, after Jansen suffered an episode of atrial fibrillation, the bullpen blew leads in every game of a four-game series.
Yasiel Puig drove in one run with a 463-foot home run — the Dodgers’ longest of the season — and drove in another with a two-out single. It took seven minutes shy of four hours, but the Dodgers sweated their way within one-half game of the first-place Rockies in the National League West.
“We play now,” Puig said, “like we are in the playoffs.”
Coors Field wears down even the best of pitchers. By the time the Rockies got Kershaw out of the game, they had used five of their own pitchers. And, by the time the Rockies had run out of innings, they had brought the tying run to the plate in all three innings against the L.A. bullpen.
The Dodgers needed five pitchers to get the final nine outs. Kershaw got the first 18. Kenta Maeda got a two-out save, striking out MVP candidate Nolan Arenado for the final out.
The save was the second this season for Maeda, the displaced starter. He said he still is nervous as a reliever, and he goofily but firmly rejected any comparison to Jansen.
“I don’t look like him,” Maeda said through an interpreter, “nor do I throw like him.”
In 18 starts against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium, Kershaw has given up 22 earned runs. In 21 starts against the Rockies at Coors Field, he has given up 64 earned runs.
He is a painter now. His fastball did not top 91 mph Friday. His new favorite pitch, his slider, was inconsistent.
But this is a results business, and he gets results. The Dodgers juggled their starting rotation so Kershaw would face the Rockies this weekend, and he delivered: six innings, six hits, two runs, one walk, seven strikeouts.
His earned-run average is 2.42 overall, 2.04 since the All-Star break. His strikeout-to-walk ratio since the break: 56 strikeouts, four walks. In an era when five innings is considered a satisfactory start, Kershaw has pitched at least six innings in 12 consecutive starts.
The Dodgers did not play particularly well. They had two hits in 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position. They ran themselves out of two innings.
But the victory would not have been possible without the bullpen success, and the bullpen matchups Roberts used would not have been possible if he had to deploy the relievers in the fourth or fifth inning. Kershaw was not impressed with his performance. Roberts has seen better too.
But Kershaw endured six innings. It was all he could do, and it was what he had to do.