Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.
Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs’ title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.
“It feels good to hear World Series,” Kershaw said. “It’s been a long time coming for this team.”
After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball’s most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles’ last championship in 1988.
The Dodgers will host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead in the ALCS heading into Game 6 at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.
Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year’s NLCS at Wrigley Field.
The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year’s postseason, but Los Angeles’ offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez’s powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs — matching Burt Hooton’s club record for postseason wins.
When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on. The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors’ dugout and chanted “Let’s go Dodgers! Let’s go Dodgers!”
Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. He added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.
The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez’s seven RBIs set an LCS record and tied the postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.
Troy O’Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.
It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers in four seasons also burdened by his concern for his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane.
“Obviously, people back home are having a really hard time right now,” Hernandez said. “For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special. My body’s here, but my mind’s kind of back home. It’s hard being away from home with what’s going on.”
Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.
Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game NL Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.
Turner and Taylor also contributed to Los Angeles’ 16-hit outburst, closing out a pair of impressive performances. Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers’ five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 during his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs.
Taylor’s versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but could return for the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.