LOS ANGELES -- Going into Game 1 of the National League Division Series, there was an opinion among Los Angeles Dodgers management that Friday night's game was more important to the Dodgers than it was to the New York Mets.
It's not just because a home team that loses the first game of a five-game postseason series has advanced only 27 percent of the time, though that's no statistical trifle.
We are living in the Clayton Kershaw era in Dodgers baseball and they keep losing when he's on the mound in October's biggest games. For fairly obvious reasons, this is a bit of a problem for the franchise.
It's as if Sandy Koufax, who was in attendance Friday night, had been just as dominant through the 1960s, but the Dodgers lost his World Series starts, rather than won four out of six of them to burnish his legend.
So, forget for a moment about whether it was Kershaw's fault for walking three batters in the seventh inning, or reliever Pedro Baez's fault for giving up a two-run single to David Wright, or Jacob deGrom's fault for throwing all those 98-mph fastballs, or Don Mattingly's fault, because to some Dodgers fans, everything is Don Mattingly's fault.
After Friday's 3-1 loss to deGrom's Mets, Kershaw has taken the loss in five straight postseason starts, the longest such losing streak in Dodgers history. One seems to be more painful than the next even if Kershaw's culpability is hazy in the majority of those losses. Friday, he struck out 11 batters before, shockingly, the three walks after some tough battles in the fateful seventh. It's always the fateful seventh, isn't it?
Kershaw has been known to get a little testy when Mattingly comes to relieve him of the ball, but after a three-ball pitch to Ruben Tejada slipped out of his hand and then he couldn't put Curtis Granderson away, he looked pretty resigned to giving it up after 113 pitches.
"Well, you know, I put myself in that spot, so there's not much room for arguing after you put yourself in that situation," Kershaw said.
Baez, too, couldn't make the right pitch at the right time and Wright lined a 99-mph fastball into center field for a bases-loaded single, the blow that put the Dodgers in this 0-1 hole and squandered home-field advantage in the series. What really sunk the Dodgers, of course, was deGrom, rested, amped up and absolutely electric. His fastball was consistently in the 96-to-98-mph range and Kershaw summed it up accurately.
"I got out-pitched," he said. "That's basically the moral of the story."
It has happened before. In Kershaw's five-game postseason losing streak, the Dodgers have mustered eight runs of support over 29 1/3 innings. Granted, Kershaw hasn't been nearly as good in October as he is in April, May, June, July, August or, especially September, but what has befuddled him as much as anything are people like Michael Wacha and deGrom standing in the rest of his team's way.
Kershaw and deGrom made their defenders into bystanders for the most part. The teams struck out 27 times, one shy of the all-time postseason record for a nine-inning game.
"It was tough to find the barrel for a lot of guys out there tonight," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "It was two really, really dominant starting pitchers out there tonight."
Terry Collins probably deserves credit for Friday's Mets win, too, for stacking his lineup with four left-handed batters, if you include deGrom. Most managers stash their lefties as far from the batter's box as possible when Kershaw is pitching. This season, lefties hit slightly better than righties off Kershaw (.554 OPS to .511), but he faced righties 688 times and lefties only 202.
Of the eight baserunners Kershaw allowed, including Daniel Murphy's home run, six were left-handed batters.
"I was a little more comfortable against righties tonight, but I don't face that many lefties usually," Kershaw said. "I'm not worried about it, but you definitely just basically tip your cap to them, that's probably the best thing to do."
So, now the Dodgers hope they can make a little more leeway against another Mets' flame thrower, Noah Syndergaard, and trust that Zack Greinke can do what he did last year and give Dodgers fans hope by winning Game 2.
But -- if the Dodgers are able to extend the series to Game 4 -- Kershaw could be the fulcrum of this thing once again, because the Dodgers might choose to bring him back on short rest rather than go with young lefty Alex Wood. Kershaw said we'll have to wait to see how that one shakes out.
But whether he gets to pitch in this series again or not, the Dodgers are going to have to win one of Kershaw's starts one of these Octobers or they're not going anywhere.