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Old 10-15-2017, 12:02 AM
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Default Dodgers 5 Cubs 2 (NLCS Game 1)
LOS ANGELES -- With one out in the Los Angeles Dodgers' half of the fifth inning, things were looking very 2016ish for Clayton Kershaw and his teammates.

Then with one jolt from Yasiel Puig, we were reminded that it’s not 2016 anymore, and now Kershaw has more help than ever.

Puig hit his first career postseason homer and drove in a run with a double, and Chris Taylor hit a go-ahead homer in the sixth, as the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 5-2 on Saturday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

Now back to that moment in the Dodgers’ half of the fifth. It was 2-0, with the Cubs on top. Kershaw had pitched fine but a super-patient Chicago lineup had swung at just 39 percent of his pitches -- the lowest of any of his opponents all season. Finally, Albert Almora Jr. swung and planted one into the bleachers for a two-run shot.

It was the fifth homer Kershaw has allowed during his two postseason outings, more than any Dodger pitcher has allowed during a single playoff year. The press box erupted in game narratives about Kershaw’s on-going October foibles.

Part of that is because the lead felt much larger than it was, and it carried with it a heavy whiff of deja vu, a reminder of last season when Kershaw had no margin for error against the eventual champs.

Flashback: In Game 2 last year, Kershaw came through, logging seven shutout innings in 1-0 L.A. win. The run in that game scored in the second inning, and it was the last time the Dodgers had scored for Kershaw until the aforementioned Puig jolt. That included the last five innings that night, five innings of Kershaw’s Game 6 loss and the first 4 1/3 innings on Saturday, stretching the drought to 14 1/3 innings.

Back to the present and the key bottom of the fifth, Kike Hernandez struck out against a rolling Jose Quintana to start the inning. At that point, Quintana had faced the minimum. Meanwhile, Kenta Maeda was throwing in the Dodgers’ bullpen and you figured there was a good chance that Kershaw was done after five innings and 87 pitches. Turned out he was, finishing with a no-decision.

But before we knew for sure that Kershaw was finished, quite all of a sudden the familiar hallmarks of the 2017 Dodgers, the NL’s top seed, the team that won 104 games this season and swept their LDS series against Arizona -- that team re-asserted itself in a most characteristic way.

First, Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes waited out Quintana in consecutive at-bats, grinding their way into back-to-back free passes.

That brought Puig to the plate.

Boom! Puig sent a twisting drive to left-center and raised his arms in triumph even as the ball bounded off the wall. Forsythe scored. Then Charlie Culberson -- the unexpected starter at shortstop in place of injured Corey Seager -- tied the game with a sacrifice fly.

Patience, depth and power. These things have characterized the Dodgers for months now. And in the case of Saturday’s game, it got Quintana out of the game after five and set up a game of bullpens. And frankly, in this series, that’s a battle the Cubs are going to be hard-pressed to win.

But first, the Dodgers needed a lead for their bullpen to protect. So Chris Taylor greeted a Hector Rondon fastball with a blast to right-center, putting L.A. up 3-2. In doing so, he became the first Dodgers centerfielder to put his team ahead with a homer in the sixth inning or later of a postseason game since Duke Snider in the 1952 World Series.

With Seager out of the lineup and off the LCS roster, the Dodgers’ lineup on paper lacked a little of its usual firepower, but Puig has emerged as a postseason hero with plenty of sizzle to go around.

Leading off the seventh, he sent a soaring fly ball that kept pushing and pushing until Chicago’s Kyle Schwarber ran out of room. The ball settled into the first couple of rows of seats for a homer, giving Puig six RBI in four games this postseason -- more than he’s had in his four previous playoff appearances combined.

And as for that battle of the bullpens, it was no contest. The Dodgers tacked on another run in the seventh against a Chicago pen that has been giving up homers by the bushel bucket this October. Meanwhile, Kershaw and relievers Tony Cingrani, Maeda, Brandon Morrow and Kenley Jansen combined to retire the last 18 Cubs hitters after Almora’s homer.

What has been the answer to Kershaw’s up and down postseason career?

Maybe, just maybe, the real question has been why Kershaw has always been expected to shoulder so much of the load. This season, he no longer has to, and the Dodgers’ revised formula just keeps working and working and working.

That’s four straight postseason wins and counting for a team that believes this is their season. With each high-stakes game they take, it’s getting increasingly difficult to doubt the Dodgers’ collective faith.

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