LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre knows the rules of the postseason well, and one of the guiding principles is that you're better off getting a scuffling starter out of the game too soon instead of too late.
On Thursday night, though, Torre was caught off-guard. His starter, youngster Clayton Kershaw, went from sailing to flailing so quickly that by the time Torre could get him out, Game 1 of the National League Championship Series had turned radically for the worse. A five-run fifth inning put the Dodgers in a hole from which they would not emerge in an 8-6 loss to the Phillies.
It contrasted starkly with a game eight days earlier, when Torre utilized a quick hook on veteran Randy Wolf, allowing his bullpen to shut down the Cardinals for 5 1/3 innings in a win in Game 1 of the Division Series. The difference then, though, was that Wolf was never really sharp. On Thursday, Kershaw had it, and then he lost it.
Kershaw had breezed through the first four innings, allowing some loud outs, but only three baserunners. He had a lead on another of the game's bright young lefties, Cole Hamels, and he was coming up on the bottom part of the Phillies' order. There was no reason to think the game would turn south as quickly, or as drastically, as it did.
Raul Ibanez led off the frame with a single, and Pedro Feliz walked. That brought up the usually light-hitting, but Dodger-killing catcher Carlos Ruiz. It appeared at that point that Kershaw started to throw, rather than pitch, and he paid for it. Ruiz got ahead, 2-0, fouled off a fastball up in the zone, and then jumped on another high fastball and smoked it into the left-field seats. A 1-0 lead had turned into a 3-1 deficit in an instant.
"Just lights-out," catcher Russell Martin said of Kershaw's first four innings. "He had everything going for him. But they got a couple guys on base and it happened quickly."
Kershaw had one last real chance to gain control of the inning, and he didn't do it. He walked Hamels, which sent Torre to call for action in his bullpen. Kershaw hung in, getting Jimmy Rollins to ground into a force and striking out Shane Victorino, but it still meant that the 21-year-old would have to retire Chase Utley with a runner on base to escape the inning.
Torre had already made one decision -- to warm up rookie Scott Elbert rather than dominating veteran reliever Hong-Chih Kuo. Then he made another, leaving Elbert in the bullpen and staying with Kershaw. It did not pay off. Utley walked, and Ryan Howard drilled a two-run double to right field that chased Kershaw and made it 5-1.
DOWN TWO AT HOME
Five teams have gone down 0-2 at home in NLCS play since '85 and none of them have advanced:
Given the choices Torre had provided himself, staying with Kershaw was a fairly understandable move. Torre preferred Kershaw to Elbert against the two dangerous lefties.
"I had a choice," Torre said. "After the three-run homer, he walked the pitcher, gets a groundout and a strikeout. Then we have two left-handers coming up, and I have to make a decision whether I want Scott Elbert to pitch to them or Clayton Kershaw. You know, to me he's a starting pitcher in Game 1, so I felt that that's what I wanted to do."
However, by warming up Elbert rather than Kuo, he'd taken away another potential option. Torre, however, didn't feel like the fifth inning was an appropriate moment to go to a man who is usually a late-inning reliever.
"That's too early for Kuo, yeah," Torre said. "I mean, I've got a quality left-hander [Kershaw] on the mound. Things didn't work out. We gave away too much as far as the number of walks we issued, but I mean, this young man, I trust him a great deal, and it just didn't work out tonight."
Kershaw was at a loss afterward.
"I don't really have an answer for it right now," Kershaw said. "I just didn't make adjustments quickly enough when I got out of the strike zone. That's pretty much what happened."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.