LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw's focus never wavered even while others were losing theirs.
As the Dodgers fell behind the Cardinals, 3-1, in the National League Championship Series, many observers took it for granted that St. Louis would capture the pennant with a Game 5 victory and proceed to the World Series.
"I didn't really think about the what-ifs," Kershaw said Thursday on a conference call. "I just always assumed I was going to pitch Game 6."
The Dodgers supported Kershaw's conviction with a 6-4 victory in Wednesday's Game 5, forcing Friday's Game 6 at St. Louis' Busch Stadium (5:30 p.m. PT, TBS).
For the record, manager Don Mattingly shared Kershaw's belief that the Dodgers would prolong the series.
And with good reason.
"Kind of the best thought I have is I've got one of the best pitchers in baseball pitching [Wednesday]," Mattingly said, referring to Game 5 starter Zack Greinke. "If we come out here and play well and get a win, I've probably got the best pitcher in baseball pitching the next day."
That would be Kershaw, left-hander extraordinaire.
Tale of the Tape: Game 6
|2013 regular season|
|Overall: 33 GS, 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 52 BB, 232 K||Overall: 9 GS (15 G), 4-1, 2.78 ERA, 19 BB, 65 K|
|Key stat: No earned runs in 6 innings in Game 2||Key stat: 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 2|
|At Busch Stadium|
|2013: 2 GS, 0-2, 1.50 ERA
Career: 7 GS, 2-4, 3.14 ERA
|2013: 7 GS (11 G), 3-1, 1.88 ERA
Career: 7 GS (11 G), 3-1, 1.88 ERA
|Against this opponent|
|2013: 3 GS, 0-3, 2.84 ERA
Career: 13 GS, 4-6, 3.47 ERA
|2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA
|Loves to face: Jon Jay, 1-for-7, 3 K
Hates to face: Matt Holliday, 10-for-35, 10 BB
|Loves to face: Yasiel Puig, 0-for-3, 3 K
Hates to face: A.J. Ellis, 1-for-3, 1 2B
|Why he'll win: Arguably the best pitcher in baseball||Why he'll win: Unbeaten in his first postseason|
|Pitcher beware: Has struggled against the Cardinals this year||Pitcher beware: Most important start of his career|
|Bottom line: Don't let the crowd get into the game||Bottom line: Maintain momentum from last two outings|
After Game 5, Mattingly virtually reveled in the opportunity to use Kershaw in Game 6. Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner who's favored to capture the honor again this year, will oppose St. Louis rookie Michael Wacha, who blanked Los Angeles for 6 2/3 innings in Game 2.
"I think if you look at it now, we've kind of become America's team because everyone wants to see a seventh game," Mattingly said. "Probably even the fans in St. Louis would like to see a seventh game, so I figure that everybody's for us to win on Friday night. So obviously it's a pretty good feeling with Clayton pitching on Friday. ... We know [Wacha's] really good, so it will be fun."
Kershaw and Wacha share Texas roots, which has obvious meaning for pitching aficionados.
"It seems like they're all really confident and kind of power-pitching guys for the most part," Mattingly said of pitchers from the Lone Star state, citing workhorses such as Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens. "I don't know if it was growing up and watching Nolan and Roger and those are the guys you want to be like, but it seems a lot of the guys that come out of there are really accomplished [and] aggressive."
Kershaw will have had a five-day break by Friday. Yet nobody has made that an issue, as was the case when he pitched Game 4 of the Division Series on three days' rest against Atlanta. Kershaw was as strong as usual, permitting two unearned runs in six innings.
Predictably, Kershaw has excelled with one day of added rest. He's 30-17 in 61 lifetime regular-season starts with five days off. That's an enviable winning percentage of .638. His peripheral statistics on five days' rest -- 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, a 3.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a .215 opponents' batting average, a 1.087 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) -- are virtually identical to his corresponding career figures in those categories (9.2, 3.0, .211 and 1.092).
Kershaw has plenty of stats on his side. What he needs is scoring. He was a 1-0 loser at St. Louis in Game 2 last Saturday. The 25-year-old, who allowed two hits in six innings, received the dubious distinction of participating in the seventh postseason game in which the only run that scored was unearned. He also became just the third postseason pitcher victimized by a sacrifice fly for the game's lone run.
"Our focus for Game 6 is to score runs for Kershaw and let him do his thing," Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said after delivering two home runs in Game 5. "So if we can give Kershaw some run support, we're pretty confident."
Thoroughly confident might be more accurate. When a reporter began a question to Gonzalez by saying, "Kershaw is obviously one of the best pitchers in baseball," the Dodgers' cleanup hitter felt compelled to correct him.
"Not one of the best," Gonzalez said. "The best."
However Kershaw's excellence is measured, the Dodgers hope that he can summon enough of it to prolong their season.