Braves beat Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, take 3-1 NLCS lead

And as the author of far too many October disappointments to name – too many to shake off as mere coincidence – he’s the enduring symbol of the Dodgers’ post-season failures during their current run of eight straight Nationals League West -Title.

Kershaw’s final stumble came Thursday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series, when he was clearly outdone by 22-year-old rookie Bryse Wilson of Atlanta Braves in a 10-2 loss to Dodgers. Whether this will be the eighth postseason outcome in a row for the Dodgers could already be found out on Friday evening in Game 5, with the resurgent Braves now leading the series 3-1.

At one point in the series where the grueling format – games every night with no rest days – begins to take its toll, the Dodgers appear ready to start right-handed Dustin May in Game 5. The Braves hadn’t announced a starter last Thursday evening.

Every bit of rational logic, computer algorithm, and betting line indicated that the Dodgers, a juggernaut from 43-17 during this pandemic-shortened regular season, were heading for a win on the series Thursday night.

Not only had they won a merciless 15-3 win over the Braves the night before in Game 3, but they sent Kershaw up the hill to face a kid making his postseason debut and from the Braves in everyone the games was skipped the first two rounds. Wilson, a fourth round draft pick in 2016, had a career of 5.91 ERA in 15 major league games, seven of which were started. He is known as a “lunchbox” in his own clubhouse – not because of his work ethic, but because of his shape.

But what Wilson did on Thursday night – namely surpassing a future Hall of Famer – was to keep the highest-scoring offense in baseball this season to one hit over six dazzling innings and the Braves within another win of a trip to the World Series to place – will secure its place forever in Braves lore.

Before Game 4, Braves manager Brian Snitker said he’d be thrilled to get five innings from Wilson – the third straight rookie starter to hit the hill for the Braves in that series – but as the top of the sixth with the With a tie of 1 and the top of the Dodgers lineup trying to face him for the third time, Wilson was likely still in it. He mowed the Dodgers one last time, 1-2-3, a fulcrum that made sure the Braves could only use their best bullpen arms the rest of the way.

The Dodgers took just one hit from Wilson, a solo homer from Edwin Rios in the third. Calling it the best start of his career in the big leagues was no problem: he had survived six innings in only one of the previous seven, and in none of those seven had he given up a single hit.

It was the same sixth inning and the same decision for the third time by the order that also proved fateful for Kershaw. When the 32-year-old left conquered the hill for the bottom half of the inning, he stood before the top of the Braves Order for the third time – a privilege the team only extends to him. When Ronald Acuna Jr. started with an infield single, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna were the next two Braves batters. Both had hit Kershaw hard on their previous record appearance – Freeman’s line-out and Ozuna’s solo homer to the left.

The Dodgers decided to leave the game in Kershaw’s hands, and Freeman and Ozuna bet consecutive braces. It was 3-1, Kershaw was on his way to the shower, and it would be 7-1 before the Dodgers could finally get out of the inning. Ozuna, meanwhile, would add another homer on Dylan Floro’s seventh and went 4v5 with four RBI.

There were no visible signs of ongoing problems with Kershaw’s long, troubled back, which flared up again Tuesday and postponed its start by two days, but his fastball was a couple of ticks on the radar gun he sat off earlier this postseason. Nor would he have expected to be in a windswept cold – especially in a stadium with a roof.

At 6 p.m., a little over an hour before the first pitch, the 268,000 square foot retractable roof on Globe Life Field began to open, revealing a steel-gray, windswept sky. It was 68 degrees and fell in first place with winds of 15 to 22 mph – a night that the Texas Rangers, who had moved to their new stadium this season, likely would have kept it closed. Largely due to concerns about the coronavirus and with 11,044 attendees, MLB decided it should be open on Thursday evening.

Kerhsaw’s wide uniform fluttered in the wind as if he were standing in front of a huge industrial fan. Every pop-up was an adventure. A handful of deep drives seemed to die on the warning lane in the wind – none more important or obvious than AJ Pollack’s hit in the seventh with two up and no one heading for the seats but settling into Acuna’s glove just shy of the wall. The Dodgers missed numerous opportunities to get back into the game in this context and left the loaded bases stuck when catcher Will Smith lined up.

In total, Kershaw was billed for four earned runs for his more than five innings on Thursday night, raising his postseason career ERA to 4.31 – nearly two runs below his regular season career mark of 2.43. A couple of early-round wins had pushed Kershaw’s postseason career record to 500, but Thursday night’s loss knocked him back 11-12.

He’s made legendary October appearances for the Dodgers in his career, too many to name. But somehow it’s the losses that cling to him, the losses that people remember.

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