The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw turned in rare clunker of a pitching performance Friday night at Nationals Park.
He allowed three runs for the first time since June 26. He threw 101 pitches in five innings, the first time he's been that inefficient in two seasons.
Yet thanks to a steady stream of lockdown relief pitchers, the Dodgers beat the Nationals 4-3 and have a 1-0 lead in their best-of-five National League Division Series.
"I felt like I had decent stuff, but I had to grind out there,'' said Kershaw, who last threw more than 100 pitches in a five-inning start in Chicago's Wrigley Field in September 2014. "It definitely wasn't easy. That's as close as you can come to bending and not breaking.''
After Dodgers manager Dave Roberts took Kershaw out after the fifth inning, four relievers shut down the Nationals on one hit the rest of the way.
Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, who hit a first-inning home run, was asked if he ever gets used to seeing a parade of pitchers running past him to the mound.
"Whatever we have to do to win,'' Seager said. "We've been relying on them down the stretch. It's nice to get the first one. Four days (off) is a long time. Now we can calm down and get back to baseball.''
Kershaw, who had a 0.88 ERA in his last eight starts against the Nationals coming into the game, went on the disabled list with a herniated disc on July 1. When he returned in September, he made five starts and posted a 0.96 ERA. But he never threw more than 91 pitches in a start.
He said there is no need to worry about his health.
"I'm feeling fine, and I don't expect anything different tomorrow,'' Kershaw said.
The bullpen pitchers who worked after Kershaw included Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez and closer Kenley Jansen, who was got the final five outs using fastballs and cutters hitting 98 mph.
Jansen had three strikeouts, including Trea Turner and Jayson Werth in the ninth inning.
Jansen, who tied with the Nationals' Mark Melancon and the Orioles' Zach Britton for the second-best saves total in the bigs with 47, also had to bat with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth. He struck out.
"I was just focused on pitching the ninth inning,'' Jansen said.
As far as the bullpen, the performance in Game 1 is what the Dodgers have been doing all year.
"We know it's going to come down to us to get this team to go farther and farther,'' Jansen said. "I feel that's what we did for Kersh tonight and the offensive guys do their job.''
And even though Jansen threw 27 pitches in a multi-inning performance, he'll be ready for Game 2.
"That kind of stuff doesn't bother me at all,'' Jansen said.
Despite the bad performance, Kershaw was happy with the win.
"It feels good to win and win in this situation,'' he said. "If I had pitched seven shutout innings and lost, it would have been a lot different feeling.''