For five innings on Saturday night, Clayton Kershaw navigated both a last-place opponent, the high-altitude elements and a quickly elevated pitch count.
Despite giving up two unearned runs in the first inning, he had kept the Colorado Rockies quiet over the next four as the Dodgers took a lead at Coors Field.
In the bottom of the sixth, however, it looked just seven pitches for his outing to come to a screeching end.
The Rockies hit back-to-back singles against his curveball. They pulled in front with a two-run triple and an RBI single on consecutive first-pitch sliders.
Suddenly, the Dodgers were trailing and manager Dave Roberts was walking to the mound.
Kershaw’s night was done. In an eventual 5-3 loss, the Dodgers wouldn’t lead again.
“It was a grind tonight,” said Kershaw, who gave up five total runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings to raise his ERA to 2.66.
“Overall I thought my stuff was OK,” he added. “Was able to regroup after that [first inning] and get through the next few innings pretty easily. And then, yeah, that sixth inning, felt good about it, it just kind of got away from me there.”
The first hit was the one Kershaw regretted the most, a curveball to Brendan Rodgers that “probably came back into him a little bit,” Kershaw said, snapping a stretch in which he had retired 13 of the previous 15 since the start of the second inning.
José Iglesias put runners on the corners in the next at-bat by dumping a low curveball into right.
Then came the two pitches that changed the game: a backdoor slider to Randal Grichuk that was lined the other way for a two-run triple, and an at-the-knees slider to Elias Díaz that was driven to left to make it 5- 3.
“The two sliders were probably, I thought, well-placed and decent,” Kershaw said. “But maybe I’d done the same thing too many times. They put good swings on them. Hit them hard. So that was the frustrating part.”
Just getting to the sixth inning had been a challenge for the left-hander, who threw 29 pitches in a first inning that was extended by Max Muncy’s two-out error at third base.
That miscue, on a bouncer from Iglesias that glanced off Muncy’s arm and into left field, was Muncy’s third error in the last eight games and one of several balls this weekend he’s failed to come up with.
Roberts, however, downplayed any defensive concerns for the third baseman.
“He turned around I think an inning or two later and made a couple really nice plays,” Roberts said. “So Max is playing good defence. I know that in the last 10 days, there’s a few plays that I think we’d like to have him come up with.”
The Dodgers (67-33) responded, as well.
After opening the scoring in the top of the first on a Will Smith RBI double, they retook the lead with two runs in the third on a Trea Turner home run — using his 16th of the year to run his hit streak to 17 games — and a Hanser Alberto RBI single.
The offense cooled off after that, going scoreless over the final six innings for a second straight night.
Kershaw, meanwhile, suffered his second bumpy start against the Rockies (46-56) at Coors Field this year — a place where he now has a personal-worst 4.82 career ERA.
“I just don’t think about it,” Kershaw said when asked about his Coors Field woes. “Just try to make pitches. I’m not gonna let any ballpark dictate how I feel about how I pitched. I’m not that mentally weak. You just got to pitch, and if you don’t pitch good, you got to own up to it.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.