Clayton Kershaw entered Dodgers lore Thursday night, right alongside the last ace to lead the franchise to a World Series title.
In 1988, Orel Hershiser came out of the bullpen for the final out of Game 4 of the NL Championship Series against the New York Mets. Hershiser, who had thrown seven innings the day before, retired Kevin McReynolds on a flyball with the bases loaded in the 12th inning, enabling Los Angeles to win the game 5-4 and even the series.
Kershaw did Hershiser one better Thursday, getting the final two outs of Game 5 of the NL Division Series against Washington. The Dodgers held on for a 4-3 win and advanced to the NLCS. They’re now eight wins from their first World Series championship since that ’88 season.
Kershaw had only one day of rest after his Game 4 start, but in the postseason, desperate times call for desperate measures. Here are a few other standout starters who turned into relievers in crucial spots:
WALTER JOHNSON, WASHINGTON (1924 World Series, Game 7)
Johnson had lost his only two starts of the series, but with the decisive game tied in the ninth inning, he came on and threw four innings of scoreless relief against the New York Giants. The Senators finally scored in the bottom of the 12th for a 4-3 victory and the championship.
JACK MCDOWELL, N.Y. YANKEES (1995 ALDS, Game 5)
With the decisive game against Seattle in extra innings, manager Buck Showalter turned to McDowell, who had started Game 3 just two days earlier. The right-hander worked through trouble in the ninth and again in the 10th, but after the Yankees took the lead in the 11th, he didn’t retire another batter. The Mariners won it 6-5 on Edgar Martinez’s two-run double .
PEDRO MARTINEZ (1999 ALDS, Game 5)
Martinez was at his absolute peak in 1999 and 2000, but was limited by a strained back muscle and pitched only four innings in Game 1 of this series against Cleveland. The Red Sox started Bret Saberhagen in the decisive fifth game against Charles Nagy, and the game was tied at 8 in the fourth inning when Martinez came on and shut the Indians down the rest of the way. He held Cleveland hitless for the final six innings, and Boston won 12-8.
JOHN SMOLTZ, ATLANTA (1999 NLCS, Game 6)
Smoltz belongs on any short list of top postseason pitchers — and he would show his versatility late in his career by becoming an effective closer. This move, however, backfired for the Braves. Smoltz had two days of rest after Game 4, and with Atlanta leading the Mets 7-3 in Game 6, he came in to start the seventh.
Smoltz retired only one hitter, allowing two doubles, a single and a tying two-run homer by Mike Piazza . The Braves did manage to overcome Smoltz’s brief outing, winning 10-9 in 11 innings to take the pennant.
RANDY JOHNSON, ARIZONA (2001 World Series, Game 7)
Johnson had experience coming out of the bullpen — he was the winning pitcher in that 1995 classic against McDowell and the Yankees. He faced the Yankees again in the 2001 World Series, and after throwing 104 pitches in Game 6, he was still available the following night in the finale.
Johnson got the third out of the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth, then got the win when Arizona scored twice in the ninth off Mariano Rivera for a 3-2 victory.
JOSH BECKETT, FLORIDA (2003 NLCS, Game 7)
This series is best remembered as a collapse by the Chicago Cubs, but Beckett played a big role in that, throwing 115 pitches in a two-hit shutout in Game 5, then coming back three days later for a relief appearance in the finale. The Marlins had just taken a 6-5 lead when Beckett came on in the fifth. He pitched four innings , retiring every batter he faced with the exception of Troy O’Leary, whose seventh-inning homer was too little, too late. Florida won 9-6.
Beckett would go on to win MVP honors in the World Series against the Yankees.
MADISON BUMGARNER, SAN FRANCISCO (2014 World Series, Game 7)
The Giants couldn’t afford to fall behind against a stellar Kansas City bullpen, so on came Bumgarner, who had thrown a shutout in Game 5. He held the Royals scoreless for the final five innings of Game 7, earning the save in San Francisco’s 3-2 victory.
Information from baseball-reference.com was used in this report.