After Kershaw blew the Los Angeles Dodgers' lead in the eighth inning by surrendering a pair of home runs, Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam in the 10th inning, launching the Nationals to a 7-3 victory Wednesday in a winner-takes-all Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium.
The 106-win Dodgers, NL champions the past two seasons, are out. The 93-win Nationals, who scraped by in a wild-card win to advance, will play Game 1 of the NL Championship Series on Friday in St. Louis.
The Dodgers clung to a 3-1 lead heading into the eighth when Anthony Rendon hit an 89 mph Kershaw fastball to left-center field. It barely made it over the fence, and cut the deficit to 3-2. On the next pitch, Juan Soto hit an 89 mph slider to right-center field. It cleared the fence by 75 feet and tied the game.
Kershaw was done. In a postseason career filled with stumbles and failures, with an ERA nearly two runs higher than his regular-season mark, Game 5 proved a particularly dark moment that got even worse in the 10th.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stuck with reliever Joe Kelly, who had pitched a clean ninth inning. The 10th got messy in a hurry. Kelly walked Adam Eaton. Rendon doubled to left field. Rather than bring in left-handed reliever Adam Kolarek, Soto's nemesis all series, Roberts intentionally walked him and stuck with Kelly.
Kendrick, the veteran utilityman coming off a career year, had endured a miserable series defensively. He made up for it on one swing, pummeling a Kelly fastball to dead-center field and silencing the crowd of 54,159 at Dodger Stadium.
The Nationals, who in four previous playoff appearances since their move from Montreal had never won a series -- and often lost in excruciating fashion -- held the Dodgers scoreless for the final eight innings, with starter Stephen Strasburg and relievers Tanner Rainey, Patrick Corbin, Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle combining to silence the potent Los Angeles bats.
As Washington dogpiled, the Dodgers skulked off, a dream regular season culminating in a nightmarish October.
It all had looked so promising, too. Joc Pederson led off the bottom of the first with a ground-rule double that just missed going over the fence. Max Muncy didn't miss anything, staking the Dodgers a 2-0 advantage with a home run to center. Kiké Hernández led off the second with a home run, and in two innings the Dodgers had scored more earned runs off Strasburg than he had allowed in his 28 career postseason innings.
"Our goal and our job," Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said, "is to put a dent in those numbers."
Dent made, the Dodgers gave starter Walker Buehler wiggle room to continue his postseason scoreless streak of 16⅔ innings. The Nationals didn't make it easy. In the top of the fifth, Kurt Suzuki walked and Michael Taylor singled to lead off the inning. Nationals manager Dave Martinez could have yanked Strasburg for a pinch hitter after four innings and left his bullpen 15 outs to secure. He allowed Strasburg to hit, and he promptly pushed a two-strike bunt foul for an out. Trea Turner followed by striking out and Eaton flew out to kill any rally.
The Nationals finally struck in the sixth and ended Buehler's streak at 21⅔ innings. Rendon led off with a double, and Soto laced a single into right field to score him. Buehler teetered for only so long. He induced a double play from Kendrick, then struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end the inning.
"I'm going to ride him," Roberts said of Buehler before Game 5, and he did, even as he ran into trouble again in the seventh -- and got bailed out by Kershaw, the Dodgers' erstwhile ace. Buehler hit Nationals catcher Suzuki with a fastball that ricocheted off his arm, hit his head and prompted his removal from the game. With two out, he walked Trea Turner. On came Kershaw to strike out Eaton on three pitches, ending Buehler's night after 6⅔ innings and a career-high 117 pitches.
Then came the misery of the eighth, a seminal moment in a career full of postseason foibles and failures.
First came the home runs. Then Roberts sticking with Kelly. Then, after four runs had crossed the plate and two other hitters went to the plate, him finally pulling Kelly for closer Kenley Jansen, as boos rained down from fans.
And finally, mercifully, Doolittle ending the Dodgers' season by getting Justin Turner on a blooper to center, Taylor making a tumbling catch for the final out.
The Nationals were headed to the NLCS.
The Dodgers were headed home.