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Dodgers move on to NLCS behind Uribe, Crawford and, yes, Kershaw

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

More: Monday Division Series grades | Braves should've used Kimbrel

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw had been out of the game for 45 minutes or more when Juan Uribe swung his bat, changed the subject and sent the Dodgers to their first NL Championship Series since 2009.

And isn't that the way this crazy game goes? Decisions are made, debates are waged ... and then the game is played. And it never plays the way you think it will.

In the end, the Dodgers' decision to start Kershaw on short rest for the first time in his career was the right one, win or lose. But, man, does it ever look better following Monday night's wild 4-3 starter's pistol to what sure was looking like an all night party in Los Angeles.

"We've got the best pitcher in baseball," owner Magic Johnson was saying as 54,438 stood and roared around him while the Dodgers celebrated on the field. "And then I think Zack Greinke is right there with him.

"But you know what makes this team great is the fact that it comes from different places. You just don't know. I mean, who would have ever thought Carl Crawford would hit two home runs? And then Juan would be the one to hit the home run to win the game?

"It's coming from all over. It's not like you can say, 'Hey, this guy, I've got to shut him off' because it's coming from so many different places. That's the mark of a really good team."

There will be no harrowing flight back to Atlanta for Game 5. Instead, there will be planning for the NLCS, which will open Friday either here -- if the Pirates can win their Game 5 in St. Louis -- or in St. Louis -- if the Cardinals dump the Pirates.

Because of their bold move with Kershaw, Greinke is lined up on extra rest to start Game 1 against the Pirates or Cardinals, and Kershaw is all set for Game 2 on regular rest. And if the Dodgers must open in St. Louis, they've got Greinke and Kershaw starting on the road, which will help neutralize St. Louis' home-field advantage.

Then, Greinke and Kershaw can come back and start Games 5 and 6 ... or 6 and 7.

Plenty of folks thought the Kershaw decision reeked of desperation. If Greinke was not around, they would have been correct.

But this strategy was forged around the Kershaw-Greinke tandem all along. Those are the two starters the Dodgers hope to ride to their first World Series title since 1988. This wasn't desperation, this was swinging for the fences, the same kind of thing the Dodgers have been doing ever since new ownership took over a year ago May.

That's what the Hanley Ramirez trade was … and the monster Boston deal to acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford and Josh Beckett. It's what signing Yasiel Puig for $42 million over seven years was and it's why they signed Hyun-Jin Ryu for $36 million over six years and Greinke, the big one, for $147 million over six years.

New Dodgers ownership has been swinging for the fences every chance it's gotten, and what we saw Monday night was only the latest manifestation of that.

"Sometimes you've got to do that," general manager Ned Colletti said, standing on champagne-saturated carpet in the Dodgers clubhouse. "You've got to pick your spots.

"You can't do it every day and you can't do it every time. But you've got to pick your spots, and if you've got the right people to pick the spot with, you take a shot at it.

"If not him, who? If there's anybody in baseball that you're going to ask to go on short rest and win a game, who's better than him? He's 25 years old. He's in excellent condition. He knows what he's doing."

So does Colletti. In 1984, he was a young assistant to Cubs general manager Dallas Green. He vividly recalls October that year, when the Cubs took a 2-0 lead over the Padres in what then was a best-of-five NLCS.

Rick Sutcliffe had gone 16-1 for the Cubs that summer and then whipped the Padres in Game 1.

"And we held him for the fifth game, and we got beat," Colletti said. "He could have pitched on short rest on Saturday, and we decided not to. We pushed him to Sunday, and we got beat."

Baseball: Allow your fate to be decided by one random game at your own risk.

"I learned from that," Colletti said. "I learned form Dallas Green, who was the boss then and is still a great friend, and I didn't forget.

"And I wasn't going to let that happen here. We were going to take two great chances with two great pitchers to win one game."

The Dodgers had been discussing the idea in many conversations dissecting many different scenarios ever since they emerged from Arizona's pool after clinching the NL West. Colletti conducted a final discussion with Kershaw late Sunday night after the Dodgers had taken a 2-1 Division Series lead, telling the pitcher that "you've got to take your competitiveness out of the answer, because you could have thrown tonight and if I say can you start tomorrow you'd say, ‘Absolutely. I'll be here at 6 in the morning if that's what it takes to start the game.'"

Kershaw convinced the Dodgers he was ready. Actually, he had convinced catcher A.J. Ellis over dinner Saturday night after the team had returned from Atlanta. Ellis asked about this possibility, and Kershaw gave him a simple look that said, "Yeah."

Not long after Colletti collared him and Mattingly spoke with him and Kershaw headed home to get some of the last bit of his "short rest" on the eve of Game 4, bench coach Trey Hillman told Mattingly that Kershaw was "like a kid on Halloween that stole the biggest bag of candy you could ever see."

"This guy was so excited to be pitching today, and that's just special," Mattingly said. "In fact, Sandy [Koufax] is here today to see him. I thought that was great. This kid is just tremendous.

"He's tremendous."

Kershaw wound up working six innings, surrendering only two unearned runs and three hits. Ellis said his stuff was "the exact same" as it always is. If not for two exceedingly rare Adrian Gonzalez errors in the first two innings that caused Kershaw to throw an estimated 12 extra pitches, he surely would have gone seven innings.

As it was, Mattingly lifted him after six and 91 pitches with the score … and then, after Ronald Bellisario gave up a run in the seventh, Puig (leadoff double in the ninth) and Uribe (two-run homer) popped for the win.

"The thing I want to reiterate is, this is the postseason," Kershaw said. "I don't want to take it for granted. I might never get to do this again.

"So if Donnie wanted me to pitch tomorrow, I would. This is the postseason. All the other [questions], is he going to be ready, is your arm going to be tired, throw that out the window. It doesn't matter. You just go. It's a one-month sprint, and I'm looking forward to the next couple of games."

Of this, you can be sure: There will be more bold moves and big decisions. Almost maniacal now in their pursuit of a World Series title, this is what the Dodgers do.

"That's right," Magic said on the Dodgers' magical night. "That's right. That's it.

"Hey. You come here to win."

 
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