Clayton Kershaw, 'the best pitcher on the planet'

Harry How

Kershaw is slated to start Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday against either the Cardinals or Pirates.

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers went for the kill on Monday night, and though it didn't turn out exactly how they planned it still worked out with a 4-3 win against the Braves to close out the NLDS. And none of it could have happened without Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers turned to their ace on three days rest, something he has never done before, and he pitched like he usually does. Kershaw lasted six innings and allowed just two unearned runs, let down by some poor defense in the fourth inning.

Kershaw was pulled by manager Don Mattingly after throwing just 91 pitches, but not without protest.

"You don't ever want to come out of a game. You don't ever want to not pitch," said Kershaw. "Ultimately it's not my decision, but I'm never going to say I'm not ready. That's just not what you do."

That left the decision to Mattingly.

"I feel like he did his job. He will never say no. I just felt like it wasn't fair to let him go back out there," Mattingly said. "I thought we could get it done for him, but we stuck it out and won in the end."

Kershaw with his outing became the first postseason starter in a decade to allow no earned runs on three or fewer days rest. The last was current teammate Josh Beckett, who closed out the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series with a complete-game shutout for the Marlins.

"[Kershaw is] the best pitcher on the planet. There is nobody better. What he did on three days rest, we did him no favors behind him," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "He could have gone seven innings real easy tonight, but he battled and grinded and never complained. He was locked in from the get go, he wanted this. This guy is a warrior. He wanted the challenge of doing this, and he more than delivered."

Mattingly talked about when he told Kershaw on late Sunday night that he would start on Monday, something the pitcher was lobbying to do.

If Donnie wanted me to pitch tomorrow, I would. This is the postseason. -Clayton Kershaw

"Trey [Hillman, bench coach] was telling me, after he walks out of our office last night knowing he's going to pitch today. Trey said he was like a kid on Halloween that stole the biggest bag of candy you could ever see," Mattingly said. "This guy was so excited to be pitching today, and that's just special."

Special for Kershaw and the Dodgers was winning a series for their second champagne celebration in 19 days. The Dodgers are back in the NLCS for the first time since 2008-2009 when they lost in back-to-back years to the Phillies. Those were Kershaw's first two seasons, and said he took those playoff appearances for granted.

Now, four years later, Kershaw is back in the NLCS and savoring the moment.

"People make a big deal about celebrations and what's appropriate and what's not. But just talking with some veteran guys, I think anytime you get a chance to celebrate with your team, regardless if it's winning the division or winning a series, whatever it is, you take advantage of that," Kershaw said. "There's a handful of guys that have never gotten to do that before.

"You just never know when you're going to get to do it again."

"He's just a different cat," Mattingly said. "I'm sure there have been guys out there like him through the years, but there are not very many. It's really a joy to have him as a player."

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