Kershaw finally came through with the season on the line Tuesday night. He saved Los Angeles from another early playoff exit by pitching the Dodgers to a 3-1 victory over the New York Mets and forcing their NL Division Series to a deciding Game 5.
Working on only three days' rest, Kershaw shut down the Mets for seven innings, and Justin Turner delivered a key hit against his former team. The series shifts back to Los Angeles on Thursday, with the other Dodgers ace,Zack Greinke, scheduled to start against Jacob deGrom.
The winner will host the wild-card Chicago Cubsin the NL Championship Series opener Saturday.
"Definitely happy to be going back home," Kershaw said. "They like us a little better there."
Still the target of chanting Mets fans, Chase Utley watched from the bench again as the Dodgers did enough at the plate to hand hometown rookie Steven Matz his first loss in the majors.
Unable to muster much offense against Kershaw, the Mets squandered their only chance to close the series at home.
"I wish we could have won it here,'' David Wright said, "but Clayton Kershaw was just a beast tonight.''
Kershaw's one-out single led to a three-run third. Adrian Gonzalez blooped an RBI single and Turner added a two-run double, which provided enough support for the lefty ace.
The reigning NL MVP and three-time Cy Young Award winner snapped a five-start losing streak in the playoffs -- the longest in Dodgers history.
"I'm actually really happy for him. I mean, this kid is tremendous. Everything that you're supposed to be, he is," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "This guy's an animal, the way he works, represents us, the game of baseball, himself. I mean, he's really a credit to the game, and so you're really happy for him to be able to do that tonight."
After dropping the series opener 3-1 to deGrom, Kershaw was 1-6 with a 4.99 ERA in 12 career postseason games, including nine starts. He lost elimination games each of the past two years, once on three days' rest.
But this time, Kershaw was just as dominant as he normally is during the regular season.
"There's no curse or anything," he said. "Just got to get through the seventh."
Kershaw struck out eight, walked one and yielded only three hits in quieting another revved up crowd at Citi Field. Daniel Murphy hit his second solo homer off Kershaw in the series; both homers came in the fourth inning.
Kenley Jansen got four outs for his second save. With two runners on in the eighth and the count full, he retired Murphy on a fly to right. The right-hander then worked a 1-2-3 ninth as the Dodgers ended a seven-game losing streak in road playoff games.
"I feel confident with Zack going in Game 5 back home," Kershaw said. "I really wanted to win tonight, definitely. For a lot of reasons, but obviously, most important was just to give Zack a chance."
Kershaw improved to 1-1 with a 1.89 ERA in a trio of playoff starts on three days' rest.
With a $290 million payroll that is $66 million higher than that of any other team, the Dodgers are seeking their first pennant since 1988, when they won the World Series. They have captured three straight NL West titles but won only one playoff series in that span -- in part because Kershaw got little run support in four consecutive postseason losses to St. Louis.
But after Los Angeles allowed 13 runs, a Dodgers postseason record, to the Mets in Game 3, Kershaw restored order when his team absolutely needed it.
The 24-year-old Matz was pitching in a big league game for the first time in 19 days, after a balky back sidelined him late in the season. Still, he looked sharp early and snapped off several effective curveballs.
That same pitch caused him trouble, too. Kershaw singled to left-center on a 2-2 curve for the first hit of the game. With two outs, Howie Kendrick grounded a single up the middle and Gonzalez dumped an RBI single into center.
Turner then lined a 2-0 curve into the left-field corner to make it 3-0, tormenting his former team yet again. Let go by the Mets after the 2013 season -- they declined to offer him arbitration -- he is 7-for-15 (.467) with four doubles and three RBIs in the series.
"Honestly, I never thought he'd be this good of a hitter. He's one of the best hitters in the game," Kershaw said. "We thought he'd be a great utility player."
Matz grew up a Mets fan on Long Island, about 50 miles from Citi Field, and his family attended the game. He went 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in six major league starts this season, but the team saw enough to pitch him in the playoffs -- in part because Matz threw gems to help clinch championships at Class A in 2013 and Double-A last year.
"The one pitch I know he wants back is the pitch to Kershaw," Collins said. "We've got all the confidence in the world that if we get to the next round, he's going to be a part of that rotation."
Dodgers: Greinke allowed a pair of solo homers during a 5-2 victory in Game 2. He went seven innings and struck out eight without a walk. The right-hander is 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA in eight postseason starts. He was 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA this season, the lowest in the majors since Atlanta ace Greg Maddux posted a 1.63 mark in 1995.
Mets: Making his postseason debut Friday at Dodger Stadium, deGrom pitched seven scoreless innings. Last season's NL Rookie of the Year struck out 13, which matched Tom Seaver's franchise record for a postseason game.
Kershaw comes up big, Dodgers force Game 5
On three days' rest, Clayton Kershaw strikes out eight over seven innings to lead the Dodgers past the Mets and send the NLDS back to Los Angeles for a decisive Game 5.