ATLANTA — Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers opened the playoffs looking intent on ending that quarter-century drought since their last World Series championship.
For the Atlanta Braves, it was another dose of October misery.
Kershaw struck out 12 during seven dominant innings, Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer and the Dodgers beat the bumbling Braves 6-1 in Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Thursday night.
The big-money Dodgers haven’t won a Series title since 1988 — by far their longest dry spell since the franchise moved from Brooklyn to Southern California in 1958.
In an interesting twist, Kershaw was born just a few months before that most recent title. If the left-hander keeps pitching the way he did against Atlanta, the Dodgers might have a chance to go all the way again.
“He’s the best pitcher in baseball,” Gonzalez said, “and he showed it tonight.”
Game 2 in the best-of-five series is tonight in Atlanta, with Zack Greinke (15-4) starting for the Dodgers against Mike Minor (13-9).
Kershaw, who had a 1.83 ERA during the regular season, limited the Braves to Chris Johnson’s run-scoring single with two outs in the fourth. That just seemed to make the pitcher mad — he struck out Andrelton Simmons to end Atlanta’s only serious threat, and the next five Braves hitters for good measure.
Appropriately, Kershaw finished up by striking out the side in the seventh, matching his season high for strikeouts. He allowed just three hits.
“He turned it up the next three or four innings, and we didn’t really get good swings at him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But offensively, I thought we had a good game plan, we followed it, we were patient.”
Atlanta struck out 15 times in all.
Even though slugger Matt Kemp is out for the playoffs and Andre Ethier is hobbling with an injured ankle, the Dodgers had no trouble piling up runs against Kris Medlen and the Braves.
The Atlanta starter, who came into the playoffs riding a five-game winning streak, gave up nine hits and five runs in four-plus innings. Medlen finally got the hook when he plunked Yasiel Puig with a pitch right between the shoulder blades.
“I think I need to make better pitches,” Medlen said. “I think it was just one of those games where even when I felt like I made pitches, they still found places to put them. They’re a great team, and when you have an opposing pitcher on the mound who is as good as Kershaw, I mean, there’s not a lot of room for error — and I had a lot of error tonight.”
Of course, Medlen would’ve fared better if he’d gotten any help from the guys behind him.
The Braves played some truly atrocious defense, though they were not charged with an error.
In the second, rookie left fielder Evan Gattis flopped to the ground in an attempt to catch a sinking liner, only to look very much like the converted catcher he is. The ball hit by A.J. Ellis rolled all the way to the wall for an RBI double, putting the Dodgers ahead 2-0 on a play that an outfielder with even a modest amount of experience probably would’ve grabbed fairly easily.
“I thought there was a couple plays that we could have made,” Fredi Gonzalez said. “I think that the guys were just a little amped up.”
Adrian Gonzalez began to put it out of reach in the third, driving a pitch over the center-field wall for his first postseason homer, a two-run shot that made it 4-0 as a sense of doom fell over a Turner Field crowd that had been so raucous in the first when Medlen struck out the side.
“Getting that 4-0 lead, we were really comfortable,” Gonzalez said.
Not that Atlanta fans haven’t seen this all before.
The Braves are perhaps best known for winning only one World Series title during a historic run of 14 straight division titles. Now, they’re already in the hole as they try to snap a streak of losing seven straight postseason series since 2001.