NLDS: deGrom Out-Delivers Kershaw

Apparently, a problematic seventh inning in postseason play isn't restricted to times when Clayton Kershaw faces the St. Louis Cardinals. Send him up against a kid like Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, even to the point of him engaging a pitching duel for the books, and the Los Angeles Dodgers bellwether runs into problems that cost ballgames as well.

On Friday night, opening a National League division series, it wasn't someone forgetting to tell him that when he needed a double play for escape he could not throw anything down the pipe to Matt Adams, who flattened him and the Dodgers' hopes last year. This time it was walking the bases loaded with two out when the Mets had only a 1-0 lead and deGrom was pitching like he could throw a shutout in his sleep.

Daniel Murphy puncturing Kershaw for a leadoff bomb in the fourth was one thing. Walking Lucas Duda on 3-1, walking Ruben Tejada after opening 0-2 against him following a runner-advancing ground out, then walking Curtis Granderson after opening 1-2 against him following deGrom's sacrificing for second and third, was something else entirely. Small wonder Kershaw for once registered no known objection when manager Don Mattingly hooked him for Pedro Baez.

And it wasn't that Baez had anything better to offer. He ran the count full on David Wright — the Mets captain and the lone remaining member of their last postseason entry — before Wright lined one right past the stretch of Dodgers second baseman Howie Kendrick and sent home Duda and Tejada with all the insurance the Mets would prove to need.

Maybe we should have seen it coming when deGrom opened this particular National League division series contest doing what no pitcher — not even Sandy Koufax, who was among the Dodger Stadium audience Friday night — had ever done in the postseason before, getting his first six outs with strikeouts.

Or, when it became very noticeable that deGrom was doing something he wouldn't have thought of in his Rookie of the Year season last year, trusting his changeup a lot more as either a setup pitch or an out pitch. Or, when he shook off a pair of miscues by left fielder Michael Cuddyer that turned semi-routine flies into doubles, to Justin Turner opening the Los Angeles second and Corey Seager with two out in the third.

Whatever Kershaw did to keep the Mets in check, deGrom did it just that much better. "I've got a little more confidence out there," deGrom said after the game. "There were a couple times tonight, 3-2, where I threw a couple changeups. Last year, I probably wouldn't have done that." When the Dodgers began laying off deGrom's changeups and breaking balls, he just made them chase rising fastballs breaking speed limits.

Or maybe we should have seen it coming when Mets manager Terry Collins remembered something enough managers tend to forget: including deGrom himself, Collins put four left-handed hitters into his lineup, mindful enough that left-handed hitters actually put up a better OPS (.554) than right-handed hitters (.511) against Kershaw this season. Kershaw allowed 8 baserunners and 6 hits from the left side.

Collins couldn't have asked for any better vindication than Murphy turning on a 2-0 fastball traveling toward the floor of the strike zone to open the top of the fourth. He missed hitting it clear out of Dodger Stadium by only a few feet, as the ball landed in the Mets' bullpen next to the right field bleachers.

"I was a little more comfortable against righties tonight," Kershaw said after the game, "but I don't face that many lefties usually. I'm not worried about it, but you definitely just basically tip your cap to them, that's probably the best thing to do."

Which is what his catcher A.J. Ellis did in assessing the starting pitching. "It was tough to find the barrel for a lot of guys out there tonight," he said. "It was two really, really dominant starting pitchers out there tonight."

That's a polite way to observe the first two pitchers to punch out eleven or more in a postseason contest. Not to mention deGrom's 13 tying the Mets' record set by Hall of Famer Tom Seaver in 1973.

Ellis was getting his first good look at deGrom this year and came away well enough impressed. "That's as good an arm as I've seen all year long," he said. "He gets the ball really well to both sides of the plate and mixes his cutter/slider. He has great composure, great poise out there. We kind of saw that earlier this year in the All-Star Game, the big moment. He kind of thrives in it."

Until Kershaw's tank ran out in the seventh, he pitched masterfully enough even if deGrom was doing it better. But if anyone can find a way to win the postseason games Kershaw pitches, send it to the Dodgers posthaste. A three-time Cy Young Award winner should have a lot better than a 1-6 won-lost record and a 4.99 ERA on his postseason jacket. Shouldn't he?

Kershaw didn't look back beyond the game just finished. "I got plain out-pitched," he said matter-of-factly. "That's basically the moral of this story."

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