LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw gutted through a shoulder injury over the final two months of the season for a chance to pitch once again in the playoffs. But Saturday turned into a nightmare, torched by the Diamondbacks and chased in the first inning in the Dodgers’ 11-2 loss in Game 1 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw allowed hits to each of his first five batters faced on Saturday, capped by a three-run home run from catcher Gabriel Moreno. After a groundout, Alek Thomas walked and Evan Longoria doubled him home for a six-spot against Kershaw, whose night was done after just one out.
Kershaw and Dave Roberts were confident the left-hander turned a corner physically in his last few starts of the regular season, but acknowledged that his shoulder injury was serious enough that over the last three months that at times his postseason availability in question.
“It was a little bit up in the air for a minute, so it makes you all the more grateful to be here,” Kershaw said Friday.
“There was a point where I didn’t think that we would be in this position,” Roberts said before Saturday’s game.
The position the Dodgers are in now is precarious, down a game in the best-of-5 series while needing to win two of the next three just to ensure Bobby Miller pitches twice.
As for Kershaw, he simply did not have anything on Saturday. Seven balls he allowed in play, and all were hit at least 96.7 mph off the bat. Of his six hits allowed, three were doubles in addition to the home run.
With only a third of an inning to his credit, Game 1 was the shortest of Kershaw’s 454 career starts.
His six runs allowed are one behind the record in postseason history in a start of less than an inning.
Kershaw having one of the worst postseason starts in major league history would be a brutal way to end a Hall of Fame career. Nobody but Kershaw knows what his plans are after this season, his 16th in the majors, but considering the injury history, the wear and tear, and that he’s still very clearly affected by a left shoulder injury, every start might mark the end of the line.
“I understand that it could be his last start here, given how the playoffs could go, and so I don’t take it for granted,” Roberts said before the game. “I’m just very grateful to wear the same uniform with him and I don’t ever take that for granted.”
After Kershaw’s storyline ended, there were still 53 more outs to get in the game, in a long night for the Dodgers.
Emmet Sheehan, one of five rookies on the Dodgers who made their first postseason roster earlier in the day, was first out of the bullpen, to provide as much bulk as possible. He had his own bumpy ride, allowing three runs in the third inning, including a home run by Arizona’s star rookie Corbin Carroll.
Sheehan recorded 11 outs to get through the fourth inning, then Shelby Miller held the D-backs scoreless for two frames, his sixth outing of two innings this season.
For Merrill Kelly, who was 0-11 with a 5.49 ERA in 16 regular season starts against the Dodgers, getting six runs before he had to throw a pitch was a wonderful gift that he did not squander.
“In my mind I’ve overdue for [a win],” Kelly said on Friday, and he did everything in his power to get it.
Kelly stranded two-out hits in the first two innings, then after a hit and a walk in the third inning Will Smith drove a ball to the warning track in right field. But that flyout was the closest the Dodgers came to scoring against Kelly, who pitched 6⅓ scoreless innings, with as many strikeouts (five) as baserunners allowed.
Michael Grove, another Dodgers rookie, checked off his own postseason debut in a low-leverage situation, down nine runs in the seventh. But his first batter, Alek Thomas, was ready for an unprecedented battle. Thomas fouled off an incredible 11 pitches, then on the 14th pitch homered to left center.
It’s the most pitches thrown by a Dodgers pitcher in any postseason plate appearance ever, and it was Grove’s first batter faced in the playoffs.
Tommy Pham’s home run off Alex Vesia in the eighth inning was Arizona’s fourth long ball of the night, and was the fourth hit of the night for Pham, who singled in each of the first three innings.
The Dodgers as a team had four hits all night.
It took until the eighth inning, when trailing by 11 runs, for the Dodgers to finally score in Game 1. Will Smith tripled home two runs for his second hit of the game.
Smith hit just the fourth triple by a Dodgers catcher in postseason history, joining Jack Meyers (1916 World Series Game 1), Mickey Owen (1941 World Series Game 1), and A.J. Ellis (2013 NLCS Game 3).
Game 1 particulars
Home runs: Gabriel Moreno (2), Corbin Carroll (2), Alek Thomas (2), Tommy Pham (1)
WP — Merrill Kelly (1-0): 6⅓ IP, 3 hits, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
LP — Clayton Kershaw (0-1): ⅓ IP, 6 hits, 6 runs
Bobby Miller gets the start for the Dodgers in Game 2 on Monday (6:07 p.m., TBS), with Zac Gallen getting the ball for Arizona.