LOS ANGELES-Well, that was fun. MVP versus MVP. Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw stood on the mound at the top of the seventh standing with two outs, ready to pipe down the Washington Nationals’ bid to celebrate a National League Division Series-clinching win at Dodger Stadium.
Taking down Bryce Harper, the reigning National League MVP, in the process would make it that much more sweeter. There stood Harper, battling one strike after another against Kershaw, protecting the plate with a repeated stroke of his majestic swing.
The game, with the Dodgers leading at that point, 5-2, hung in the balance as Harper presented the tying run with two of his teammates already on base. Outside of the two runs he surrendered in the first and third innings of the Game 4 NLDS contest, Kershaw had been humming along through the first six innings.
For the game, Kershaw hit double-digits in the strikeout department, recording 11 whiffs for the day. By the time he got to Harper, he had recorded two outs and gave the Nationals a little bit of life by allowing two runners to get on base.
When Harper stepped up to the plate against the 2014 National League MVP, the collective sigh that ran throughout Dodger Stadium was almost surreal. It was like one of those “here we go” moments. This is what fans pay to pay to see. The best going up against best. This was (A) game clashing with (A) game.
The staredown between Harper and Kershaw was certainly worth the price of admission. In the end, Harper, on sheer technicality, came out on top of the explosive matchup with a walk to first base that loaded the bases for the Nationals and sent Kershaw to the dugout, his day’s work over.
“Man, that’s what baseball is all about about right there, a matter of will,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “And Kershaw was on empty. We knew it. They knew it. Everybody knew it. That was some battle. And most of the time, when you have an opportunity to take the lead and you don’t, most of the time, something bad happens, and you know, we had an opportunity to take the lead…Kershaw was outstanding. That was one of the best performances I’ve seen, especially on three days’ rest.”
The Nationals rallied to tie the game with three runs scored in the inning after Kershaw’s departure, leaving blue fans more than a bit anxious in their seats as thoughts of another disheartening defeat looked imminent.
But like they’ve done all season long, the Dodgers showed their grit. After that deflating seventh inning, the Dodgers answered the Nationals’ rallying cry with a run in the eighth. Chase made them do it. Infielder Chase Utley knocked in what turned out to the winning run with a single into center field, bringing home Andrew Toles to give the Dodgers a 6-5 lead they would hold up.
“Obviously, it was a big hit for us, but there were a lot of great at-bats today,” Utley said.
Now it’s anybody’s series. Game 5 will either bring the Dodgers a continuation of their elation or add to their postseason grief.
“If anyone gives up on this team, they haven’t seen us play a whole lot this year, and it starts with what Clayton did-short rest and leaving it all out there,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “You know, everyone fed off that.”