CHICAGO -- Clayton Kershaw had some unfinished business to tend to Sunday during the Los Angeles Dodgers' arresting 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series, only it was not what most were thinking.
Baseball's superhuman pitcher might have numbers to suggest he is a mere mortal in the seventh inning of playoff games, but his desire to stay in Game 2 of the NLCS with the Dodgers clinging to a one-run lead was not rooted in the past.
His determination to get one more out Sunday night was not some selfish ploy to strike back at whatever has haunted him late in games when the weather turns cool, the leaves turn orange and the bunting hangs from the upper deck.
Kershaw was not looking backward when he told his manager Dave Roberts he was not coming out of Sunday's game in the seventh inning as the Cubs' Javier Baez was set to come to the plate ... unless by backward that meant over his left shoulder toward the bullpen.
Kershaw's determination to see the seventh inning through Sunday -- the inning in which he carried a 28.93 postseason ERA into Game 2 -- was rooted in the idea that if he left the game at that moment, closer Kenley Jansen would undertake an extended outing of seven outs, three days after he threw 51 pitches against the Washington Nationals.
If there was anything Kershaw could to do aid the situation, he was determined to do it.
"I just thought I could get [Baez] out, yeah, that was really it," Kershaw said. "Seeing Kenley warm up -- [seven] outs is a lot to ask to get a save, and if we could kind of spare him one more up-and-down between innings, only do it once as opposed to twice, that was part of it, I guess. But mainly, I thought I could get him out and came really close to not doing it."
The meeting on the mound with Roberts, Kershaw, catcher Yasmani Grandal and the infield, was essentially a six-on-one affair. Roberts admitted he was leaning toward removing Kershaw with two outs in the seventh and the right-handed hitting Baez coming to the plate.
Grandal described how Dodgers players drew a line in the clay.
"That's why I ran out there before Doc [Roberts] got there," Grandal said. "I said 'Hey, there is no way you're coming out. You can get this guy out.' He was with me. He asked if Doc had made the signal yet. Obviously Doc didn't. And he said [to Roberts], 'Hey, I can get this guy out.' And I backed him 100 percent."
Grandal claims the entire infield had the same sentiment.
"We want him there," Grandal said. "Everybody was on the same page. We knew exactly what we wanted to do. We knew we could get him out. So it was just a matter of executing."
It was not so simple. The seventh inning had danger written all over it from the start. Anthony Rizzo walked to lead off the inning on four consecutive pitches, an almost unheard of scenario when it comes to Kershaw. And when Grandal misplayed a foul popup behind the plate to extend Ben Zobrist's at-bat, the sense of doom only grew.
But Zobrist struck out, Addison Russell hit a lazy fly ball to right field and Kershaw and his band of legal representation struck down any argument from Roberts.
On the second pitch to Baez, the Cubs' fearless free swinger rocked a 93 mph fastball deep toward center field and Joc Pederson tracked it down at the warning track. Roberts greeted Kershaw with a maniacal laugh in the dugout. Kershaw took a seat on the bench and exhaled.
Tasked with getting six outs instead of seven, Jansen handled it with ease. He so thoroughly dispatched the Cubs over the final two innings that he needed only 18 pitches, even while striking out four batters.
Kershaw not only ended the night with his first scoreless start of the playoffs in 13 tries; his effort against the Cubs' dynamic offense evened the NLCS at a game apiece, with the series moving to Dodger Stadium for the next three games.
With his seven scoreless innings Sunday and his two-out save Thursday in the NL Division Series clincher at Washington, Kershaw is rewriting his October story. That does not even mention the two gritty starts he put in against the Nationals that weren't visually as appealing as Sunday's, but both carried the Dodgers toward victories.
All told, the Dodgers have won four games this postseason. They are the four games in which Kershaw has pitched.
That Kershaw and the month of October continue to drive conversation is starting to fray nerves. Roberts seemed to grow irritated when another October question was lobbed his way after Sunday's victory.
"I know he's tired of hearing about it; it's unfair," Roberts snapped. "For us, I don't think we care. But what this guy's done is digging deep, and I can't say enough about Clayton Kershaw."
Kershaw also seemed to have a short fuse, even in victory. He seemed to know that questions of what almost happened, or what didn't happen in the past, would come up as often as inquiries into the 1-0 victory that made the NLCS all square.
It was a victory that was worth exactly as much as the Cubs' dramatic triumph Saturday, and it halted the momentum of the series favorite in the process.
So when the first question was about the ball Baez nearly hit out, and not about the victory, the even series, the resiliency of his team to not let the Cubs' dramatic Game 1 victory destroy them, Kershaw fired up the competitive drive as if he was heading back out for an eighth inning.
"That's your first freaking question?" Kershaw said, signaling that even more than an hour after leaving one of the best postseason performances of his career, he was not backing down. And then he answered the question.
"Yeah, I did; I thought it was out, for sure," Kershaw said. "He hit it pretty good. And yeah, after Dave came out and that, I kind of talked my way into it. He was probably not going to trust me again after that, but, fortunately, [Baez] hit it at somebody, so it was good."
Good enough to put a lid on his brilliant postseason outing, not that he was ready to bask in the glory of it in any way.
He was asked one more question about his postseason seventh innings in general and chose to talk about this seventh inning specifically. He said he got away with one to Zobrist, he was able to get in on Russell, and Baez simply hit one at somebody. If you weren't watching, Kershaw was not going to sell you on the brilliance of it all.
"So I don't know if it was anything special that I did, but it happened to work out tonight," he said, in perhaps his most unexpected off-speed pitch of the night.
Except that it was special, and it more than just worked out, because Kershaw got his team back in the series by digging deep, just like Roberts said.