By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound, Los Angeles had banked on a sizzling start to their National League Division Series on a hot Friday evening but it was the New York Mets who drew first blood in the opener.
Three-time Cy Young Award winner Kershaw, looking weary after producing the good, bad and ugly with his pitching, exited the game in the top of the seventh before the Mets completed a 3-1 win in front of a shell-shocked crowd at Dodger Stadium.
Outshone on the night by opposing starter Jacob deGrom, the bearded Kershaw once again succumbed to postseason blues in the seventh inning, having left the bases loaded on his departure before the Mets took advantage with a two-run single.
Left-hander Kershaw was pulled by Dodgers coach Don Mattingly with David Wright next up for the Mets and the third baseman singled on a line drive to center field for Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada to score, putting New York 3-0 up.
"Going into that (seventh) inning, we kind of looked at what his (Kershaw's) pitch count was, and kind of thought ... if we got back to Wright, the fourth time through, David pumps on lefties pretty good," Mattingly told reporters.
"We felt like that was going to be a spot, if we got to that point, (when) we were going to make a move."
When Kershaw trudged off the field, he had been done in by three walks during that seventh inning. Overall, he allowed three runs on four hits with 11 strikeouts in 6-2/3 innings as he took the loss, his fifth in a row during the postseason.
"His pitch count wasn't really that bad," Mattingly said of Kershaw, who was the National League's most valuable player in 2014. "I think he was at 50 or 49 after three, which is basically just a few over if you're looking at 15 an inning.
"I thought they (the Mets) did a good job battling. That's what happens in the playoffs. You get more and more battle at-bats. I thought we did a pretty good job, we just weren't able to crack it."
After a day of triple-digit temperatures in Los Angeles, the mercury had only dipped to 92 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) when Kershaw threw the first pitch in front of a sellout crowd of 54,428 at Dodger Stadium.
Though he started out impressively enough, yielding no runs on 51 pitches with six strikeouts in his first three innings, a homer by Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy in the fourth put New York in front for good.
Twice last year, Kershaw suffered unexpected embarrassment in the seventh inning during the postseason, on both occasions at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals before the Dodgers were ousted 3-1 in the NL Division Series.
The Cardinals erupted for eight runs in the seventh to stun Los Angeles and Kershaw in a 10-9 Game One shocker before the Dodgers ace, pitching on short rest in Game Four, again took the loss after giving up a three-run home run in the seventh.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)