A cameraman closely trailed Clayton Kershaw, unusually so, as the Dodgers pitcher walked off the mound at Citi Field on Friday night. Kershaw was not pleased, not after walking consecutive hitters to load the bases with one out and mar an otherwise quality outing before he could finish the seventh inning. He waved the man off. He wasn’t having it.
“He was too close,” Kershaw said.
Kershaw was annoyed, but the ending was not indicative of his performance against the New York Mets. The left-hander rebounded from a three-start losing skid and his shortest outing of the season with a strong outing in the Dodgers’ 9-2 win.
He allowed a home run to J.D. Davis and surrendered a walk in the first inning but got stingy after that. Over the next five innings, the Mets managed two hits — consecutive singles in the fourth inning. The Mets went two for 17 during the span.
“Just sometimes it happens,” Kershaw said. “Hopefully get on one of those every start. Just finally got going a little bit better.”
The Mets then loaded the bases and chased Kershaw with one out in the seventh inning. Joe Kelly was summoned to extinguish the situation. The right-hander got Brandon Nimmo to hit a chopper to his left. Kelly corralled it and spun for an athletic throw home for the forceout. Amed Rosario lined a run-scoring single before Davis grounded out to limit the damage. Kershaw (14-5), coming off a four-inning start, was ultimately charged with two runs on four hits as he improved to 10-0 in his career against the Mets during the regular season.
“I think he needed that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The Dodgers tallied four runs in the fourth inning to snatch the lead, capped off by Gavin Lux’s tie-breaking, three-run home run. The homer, the second of Lux’s short career, came on a hanging curveball from Noah Syndergaard (10-8), who allowed four runs in five innings. It traveled 419 feet to straightaway center field. Edwin Rios, another rookie, lofted a pinch-hit, two-home run over the wall in left field in the eighth.
The Dodgers (96-53) boarded a train north from Baltimore late Thursday night with their playoff spot sewn up. They became the first team in the majors to clinch a division title Tuesday. The Mets reside at the other end of the playoff race.
While the Dodgers are playing for home-field advantage and individual numbers, the Mets (76-70) are clawing for their first postseason appearance since 2016. They began Friday two games behind the second wild-card spot, alongside the Philadelphia Phillies. These three games matter more to them.
There’s another layer to the weekend’s meetings: Should the Mets sneak into the playoffs and win the wild-card game, they would meet the Dodgers in the National League Division Series. The Mets could arguably be a tougher opponent in a five-game series than a few of the other wild-card contenders because of their quality starting rotation.
“You look at it much more keenly,” Roberts said. “And I think that I expect a great crowd this series. ... As far as on the coaching side, you’re certainly keeping a watchful eye on tendencies and things like that.”
Before reaching that point, the Dodgers will strive to get, and stay, healthy. Uncertainty abounds. Rich Hill reinjured his knee Thursday, leaving his status for the remainder of the season in doubt. Justin Turner hasn’t played since last Saturday and won’t play until Tuesday. Alex Verdugo isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the playoffs. They hope Max Muncy’s status no longer is a question.
Muncy was back in the Dodgers’ lineup Friday, playing first base and batting second, 16 days after fracturing his right wrist. He took about a dozen at-bats this week in a simulated game setting at the Dodgers’ facility in Arizona. He said the fracture does not affect his swing. But he said throwing remains “weird.” Muncy will wear a brace on the wrist that the training staff “MacGyver’d” for him at the plate but not on the field because it would impede his throwing motion.
“It feels better than it did, but, again, it’s one of those things it doesn’t feel completely normal and it’s probably not going to for a while,” said Muncy, who went 0 for 3 with two walks and a run scored Friday.
While Muncy manned first base Friday, Roberts said he will start at second base against left-handed pitchers. That scenario won’t arise this weekend; the Mets are scheduled to start right-handers Saturday and Sunday.
The All-Star began his return by striking out in the first inning. He lined out to right field in the third and walked in the fifth. He walked again in his fourth plate appearance in the seventh The next batter, pinch-hitter Chris Taylor, roped a two-run double down the left-field line. Muncy raced around from first base to give Los Angeles a 7-1 lead.
Kershaw entered the seventh with 85 pitches. The chances of a roadblock seemed low. But after retiring the leadoff hitter, Kershaw didn’t secure another out. He gave up a single to Todd Frazier and walked Michael Conforto as his pitch count reached 101, tying his season high, and the right-handed-hitting Pete Alonso, the majors’ home run leader, strutted to the plate to pinch-hit.
It was not a favorable matchup, but Kershaw, on six days’ rest with another six coming, stayed in the game. He walked Alonso on four pitches, ending his night.
“I wanted to stress him a little bit, or build up that endurance,” Roberts said. “And I thought he deserved it.”
Roberts took the ball from his ultra-competitive pitcher after the fine outing. The cameraman was not far behind.