LOS ANGELES -- Zack Greinke got the ball rolling with a win in Game 5 of the NLCS on Wednesday, but he was only part of the reason the Dodgers are so confident heading back to St. Louis, even though they trail the Cardinals three games to two in the series. The main reason is their starter in Game 6 on Friday, Clayton Kershaw.
"Obviously it's a pretty good feeling with Clayton pitching on Friday," manager Don Mattingly said after Wednesday's win. "So we breathe till then."
Kershaw has pitched 255 innings this season, counting the regular season, and has a 1.73 ERA.
A reporter began a postgame question on Wednesday with, "Obviously Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in baseball" when Adrian Gonzalez interrupted him.
"Not one of the best. The best," Gonzalez clarified.
Greinke after the All-Star break nearly kept pace with Kershaw, as he was 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 14 starts compared to 8-3 with a 1.59 ERA in 13 starts for the left-hander. They were as big a reason as any why the Dodgers ran away with the National League West. But Greinke deflected any talk of a competition between the two on the mound.
"Pitching‑wise, we don't talk about it. I don't try to compete with him because I don't think it's possible to," Greinke said. "Try, maybe, just try to come as close as possible."
There is an aura surrounding Kershaw, which is fitting since he often gets compared to Sandy Koufax, who is revered more on the level of mythical creature than all-time pitching great.
Kershaw added to his growing legend by pitching on three days rest in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Braves. In the postseason he has allowed just one earned run (and three more unearned runs) in 19 innings. He would have pitched more innings had he not been removed after six innings and just 72 pitches in Game 2 because the Dodgers trailed 1-0 and needed offense.
Yes the Cardinals beat Kershaw in Game 2 on an unearned run, and Michael Wacha pitched scoreless ball into the seventh inning. The Dodgers did lose 14 times in Kershaw starts during the regular season, and Wacha is starting again on Friday night in Game 6. But the Dodgers have the confidence of a drunk fueled by liquid courage.
"With Kershaw, we're fully comfortable he's going to do the same job he did in Game 2," said Adrian Gonzalez. "All we have to do is score for him."
When you say it like that, baseball really is a simple game.
The Dodgers' offense, held to just seven runs in the first four games, slammed four home runs and scored six in their Game 5 win. They will need the bats to come alive again this weekend in St. Louis.
"Our focus for Game 6 is to score runs for Kershaw and let him do his thing," Gonzalez said. "So if we can give Kershaw some run support, we're pretty confident."
Skip Schumaker was on the Cardinals in 2012 when they blew a 3-1 NLCS lead to San Francisco. Now a Dodger, he's hoping for a repeat in 2013.
"That's what I'm hoping happens on our side is we have our pitchers lined up, and if St. Louis does beat us, they beat us against our best guys going," Schumaker said. "I've seen it happen, so I know it can be done. There is a reason why it's a seven‑game series, and I thought it was going to be seven games in the beginning because it was so evenly matched, these teams. So I'm hoping I'm right."
Mattingly, with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, thinks many more people hope Schumaker is right.
"I think if you look at it now we've kind of become America's team because everyone wants to see a seventh game," Mattingly said. "Probably even the fans in St. Louis would like to see a seventh game, so I figure that everybody's for us to win on Friday night."