A little past midnight in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, Clayton Kershaw emerged from the bullpen to pitch in relief for the first time in seven years.
Two outs later, the only save of his major league career in the books, Kershaw’s arms were raised and teammates were rushing to celebrate with a guy whose postseason performances have never carried the luster of his regular-season success.
Coming in after closer Kenley Jansen entered in the seventh inning and threw a career-high 51 pitches but issued a pair of one-out walks in the ninth, Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop out, then struck out Wilmer Difo to end it.
The Dodgers won the last two games of the best-of-five NLDS with Kershaw pitching in each and now head to the NL Championship Series to face the Chicago Cubs. That opens at Wrigley Field on Saturday night.
The Nationals, meanwhile, still have never won a postseason series, winning three NL East titles in the past five years but losing in the NLDS each time.
And while there’s no way Kershaw will be available for Game 1 against Chicago, one thing’s for sure: Whatever notion there might have been about the lefty’s playoff problems — he was 2-6 in the postseason until this series, with an ERA nearly twice what he has in the regular season — is now a thing of the past.