LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw put his previous flop behind him and pushed the Los Angeles Dodgers forward — one victory from a return trip to the World Series.
With so much at stake, the three-time Cy Young Award winner bounced back from one of his worst postseason starts with one of his best, pitching the Dodgers past the Milwaukee Brewers 5-2 Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the NL Championship Series.
"I don't really think about the one before. And after this one I'm not going to think about this one, either," Kershaw said.
Max Muncy hit a go-ahead single in the sixth inning for the defending NL champs. Kershaw held the lead, scoring an insurance run in the seventh and then exiting.
Roughed up in the NLCS opener, Kershaw mixed his fastball and slider on a hot day to shut down the Brewers. The Dodgers ace didn't allow a baserunner past the third inning.
"He just has a knack," Brewers star Christian Yelich said. "He has the ability to punch guys out."
Game 6 is Friday night in Milwaukee. The Brewers will start left-hander Wade Miley, who walked Cody Bellinger to open Game 5 before getting pulled in an interesting piece of strategy by manager Craig Counsell. Hyun-Jin Ryu will go for the Dodgers.
"To go back to Milwaukee up 3-2 as opposed to being down 3-2 is huge for us," Kershaw said. "It's been a battle every single game we've played them so far and we don't expect anything different when we go back."
The Brewers do.
"We're in a good spot, man," Counsell said. "We're going back home, to me, in a position of strength."
The Dodgers haven't been in back-to-back World Series since losing to the Yankees in 1977 and '78. They were beaten by Houston in Game 7 last year.
"You've seen it this entire postseason, even when we're behind, we're battling back, putting ourselves in a position to possibly tie games or take the lead late," Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner said. "That's where our experience comes in. We never count ourselves out."
If the Brewers rally to win the series and this ends up being Kershaw's last start for the Dodgers, he left behind a gem. The left-hander can opt out of the last two years and $70 million remaining on his contract after the World Series and become a free agent. He said Tuesday he hasn't made a decision about his future.
The teams reconvened less than 15 hours after the Dodgers eked out a 2-1 victory Tuesday night on Cody Bellinger's RBI single with two outs in a 13-inning game that lasted over five hours.
Pitching in 82-degree sunshine, Kershaw was well-rested and masterful in allowing one run and three hits over seven. He struck out nine, all on breaking pitches, and walked two.
Kershaw recovered from the shortest postseason start of his career. He lasted just three innings in losing the NLCS opener while giving up five runs — four earned — at Miller Park.
"I don't know if it was that much, just a little bit better execution maybe," Kershaw said of his repertoire. "Maybe I threw some more curveballs today than I did in Game 1."
Kershaw pitched in and out of trouble in the third, when the Brewers loaded the bases and scored their lone run. Kershaw struck out Jesus Aguilar to end the third, the first of 13 consecutive batters that the left-hander retired.
"Anytime you can work yourself out of situations like that that's going to make or break the game," Kershaw said. "Minimizing damage as best you can as a starting pitcher is huge."
Curtis Granderson hit an RBI double in the ninth. Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers' third pitcher of the ninth, came in for the last two outs and the save.
Yelich, who nearly won the NL Triple Crown this season, was hitless in four at-bats. He is 3 for 20 without an RBI in the NLCS.
"Just not capitalizing," he said. "It's frustrating."
The Dodgers' offense broke loose with five runs over the fifth, sixth and seventh innings that had the sellout crowd of 54,502 on its feet whipping blue towels and cheering loudly.
The team that hit a franchise and NL-leading 235 home runs in the regular season did it playing small ball instead, driving in all but one of its runs on singles.
"The little things played a big part," Roberts said.
The Dodgers tied the game 1-all on Austin Barnes' RBI single up the middle in the fifth. Chris Taylor singled leading off, took second on shortstop Orlando Arcia's throwing error and stole third.
"It was huge to get there to third base, less than two outs, give us a shot to do some things," Barnes said of Taylor.
Muncy grounded a 1-2 pitch from Brandon Woodruff into left field, scoring Turner, who led off with a single. Yasiel Puig singled to center with two outs, bringing home Manny Machado after he was hit by a pitch from Corbin Burnes.
Los Angeles extended the lead to 5-1 in the seventh on Turner's RBI single that scored Kershaw, who walked, and pinch-hitter Brian Dozier's RBI groundout.
Kershaw has struggled in the postseason during his career, with his numbers never matching his excellence during the regular season.
But his outing Wednesday nearly matched what he did in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against Atlanta. Kershaw allowed two hits over eight shutout innings, struck out three and walked none in the best postseason outing of his career.
"It's just a classic case of he executed a lot of pitches," Counsell said.
The Brewers led 1-0 in the third on Lorenzo Cain's RBI double to deep center.
Working with a lead
The Dodgers are 5-1 in series when they own a 3-2 lead. Their only loss came in the 1952 World Series against the Yankees. Teams with a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven NLCS have a 15-6 series record.
Get to the 'pen
Milwaukee's starters have tossed just 14 innings in the NLCS, the lowest total ever through five games, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The 2008 Dodgers and 1984 Padres share the record for fewest innings by starting pitchers with 21 1/3.
Granderson chipped his right front tooth in the ninth and wore a bandage on his lower lip where his helmet hit him. He never did find his tooth despite help from Turner, Machado and Dozier.
"We couldn't find it out there. Too small," Granderson said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to eat tonight, which is the biggest concern."
Miley will become the first pitcher to start consecutive games for his team in the same postseason since George Earnshaw of the Philadelphia Athletics in the 1930 World Series against the Cardinals, STATS said. He pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings in Game 2 vs. the Dodgers, allowing two hits and walking none. Ryu gave up two runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings in that game. Ryu pitched seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS against Atlanta, allowing four hits and striking out eight.