Clayton Kershaw’s injury mars another power-fueled Dodgers comeback
Their hopes of winning a ninth straight National League West title are hanging by a thread, but that thin strand of Dodger blue fibers hasn’t snapped just yet.
The hard-charging Dodgers stayed alive in a tight division race with the San Francisco Giants with an 8-6 come-from-behind victory over the Milwaukee Brewers Friday night, Trea Turner electrifying a Chavez Ravine crowd of 51,388 with a score-tying grand slam in the fifth inning.
Turner also hit a solo shot in the first inning. Matt Beaty put the Dodgers ahead 6-5 with his second career pinch-hit homer, a solo shot to right-center field in the seventh, to give the Dodgers 14 homers in their last three games.
But the Giants beat the San Diego Padres 3-0 to remain two games ahead with two games to play and clinch at least a tie for the division title.
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The Dodgers, who are 41-13 since Aug. 1, must win their final two games over the NL Central-winning Brewers, and the Padres must beat the Giants twice just to force a tie-breaking Game 163 for the division title between the Dodgers and Giants in San Francisco on Monday.
One Giants win or one Dodgers loss would clinch the NL West and a spot in the best-of-five division series for San Francisco, while the Dodgers would be forced to play host to the St. Louis Cardinals in a single-elimination NL wild-card game on Wednesday night.
Whether the Dodgers advance as a division winner or wild card, they will proceed without Clayton Kershaw, who left Friday night’s start in the second inning because of left-forearm discomfort, the same type of injury that sidelined him for almost 2½ months this summer.
“We’re gonna do some more tests [on Saturday], but obviously, when Clayton has to come out of a game, it doesn’t bode well,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Where we’re at with schedule, we’re not too optimistic right now.”
Though Kershaw’s 90.2-mph average fastball velocity was normal, five of the 10 hitters who faced him produced batted balls with exit velocities of 95 mph or more, and he gave up three runs in the second inning before departing.
Eduardo Escobar and Luis Urias opened the second with singles, and Lorenzo Cain hit an RBI double to left. Omar Narvaez hit an RBI groundout, and Kershaw, who was sidelined by a forearm injury from early July to mid-September, grimaced after a 2-and-1 fastball to Kolten Wong.
Two pitches later, Wong ripped an RBI double to right to give Milwaukee a 3-1 lead. Roberts and an athletic trainer came to the mound. After a brief discussion, Kershaw, who threw 42 pitches in the game, walked toward the dugout clutching the game ball in his left hand.
At first glance, there appeared to be a logical reason Kershaw didn’t hand the ball to his manager. Friday night’s start could potentially be his final one as a Dodger. Kershaw will be a free agent after the season, and he won’t start another game until the NL division series — if the Dodgers advance that far.
“I was just shocked,” Kershaw said. “I honestly had no idea I was holding onto the ball. I probably should have given it to Doc.”
Kershaw was making his fourth start since coming off the injured list after using his desire to pitch in the playoffs as fuel to motivate him during his grueling rehabilitation process.
“The biggest thing is I wanted to be a part of this team going through October,” Kershaw said. “This team is special. You saw what Trea did tonight, you saw what this team is capable of doing. I’ve known that, and I wanted to be a part of that. That’s the hardest part for me right now, just knowing that, chances are, it’s not looking great for October right now.”
Kershaw has played his entire 14-year career in Los Angeles, winning three NL Cy Young Awards, racking up 185 career wins, 2,670 strikeouts and one World Series title. He was in no mood to contemplate the possible end to his Dodgers career Friday night.
“I’ve said this before, my future is gonna take care of itself,” Kershaw said. “I’m not really worried about that right now. I really wanted to be a part of the moment right now, and I wanted to be with this group going through October. That was my whole focus this whole year once I got hurt, to come back and make up for it this month.
“That’s the hard part right now, that it’s gonna be a challenge to even contribute at all this next month. But as far as anything else goes, I haven’t wrapped my head around it, and I don’t plan to anytime soon. I’m just excited to watch these guys this month.”
The Dodgers got two more injury scares in the game when Urias, on a third-inning stolen-base attempt, slid hard into the glove of Turner, who grimaced in pain but remained in the game.
In the bottom of the third, shortstop Corey Seager, who hit .378 with a 1.184 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, eight homers, five doubles and 19 RBIs in his previous 25 games, grounded into an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play, twisting his left ankle when he stepped on the foot of Milwaukee pitcher Eric Lauer.
Seager crouched in shallow right field and got up gingerly but was able to remain in the game. Both would play key roles in the second Dodgers comeback from a four-run deficit in three games.
The Dodgers were trailing 5-1 in the fifth when they loaded the bases on one-out singles by Austin Barnes, pinch-hitter Albert Pujols and Mookie Betts.
Seager popped out to shortstop for the second out, but Turner lined a first-pitch changeup from Lauer into the left-center field pavilion for his fourth career grand slam and 27th homer of the season, tying the score 5-5.
San Francisco beat San Diego to clinch at least a share of the NL West, and topping the Dodgers for a division title would be gravy on a special season.
Beaty crushed a first-pitch 97-mph fastball from reliever Jandel Gustave into the right-center field seats for his first homer since Aug. 15 and a 6-5 lead in the seventh.
Betts was hit by a pitch, Seager singled to center, and Turner was intentionally walked to load the bases. Betts scored on a wild pitch for a 7-5 lead, and Max Muncy’s two-out, RBI infield single off left-hander Brent Suter made it 8-5.
Brusdar Graterol gave up two runs in the third, but Alex Vesia, Evan Phillips, Justin Bruihl and Blake Treinen combined for 4 2/3 scoreless innings of relief before Joe Kelly gave up a pinch-hit RBI single to Daniel Vogelbach that pulled the Brewers to within 8-6 in the eighth.
Kenley Jansen got the final four outs for his 38th save, closing the team’s 104th win this season, tied for the third-most in franchise history.
Roberts has not wavered in his decision to start Scherzer in a wild-card game, even though the right-hander was roughed up for 10 earned runs and 17 hits in 10 1/3 innings of his last two starts after going 7-0 with an 0.78 ERA in his first nine starts for the Dodgers.
Buehler has an impressive big-game resume, with a 3-1 record and 2.35 ERA in 11 career playoff starts, and he bounced back from a rocky four-start stretch to throw seven three-hit shutout innings against the Padres Tuesday night.
“Max is still the guy,” Roberts said.
As daunting as a wild-card game can be, the Dodgers can draw strength from the three elimination games they played in last October’s NL Championship Series, when they beat the Atlanta Braves three times to overcame a three-games-to-one deficit in the seven-game series.
“If we do get into that situation, it’s something where I think experience certainly helps in how you can control emotions, nerves and still focus on the task at hand,” Roberts said. “We’ve had a lot of guys who have been involved in elimination games or Game 163s or big ballgames.”
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