Lefty Kershaw starting Game 1

Originally Published: October 14, 2009
ESPN.com news services

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers on Thursday against fellow left-hander Cole Hamels of the Phillies in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

At 21 years and 209 days old, Kershaw will be the third-youngest Game 1 starter in postseason history. The youngest was Fernando Valenzuela, who was 20 years and 339 days old when he started for the Dodgers in the 1981 NL Division Series.

"I've grown up a lot since last year," said Kershaw, who worked out of the bullpen in last year's NLCS. "It's not obviously the same starting Game 1 of a series or anything like that, but just to have the experience to get out there and pitch against them a little bit is definitely going to help me out."

The Phillies and Dodgers are back in the NLCS for the second straight year, making them the closest thing the NL has to a couple of dominant teams.

They are the first repeat teams since Houston and St. Louis squared off in 2004 and '05, and only the third repeaters since Atlanta and Pittsburgh met in 1991 and '92.

"I heard Joe Torre say the beauty of it is always going back and seeing how many times you can win," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said Wednesday of his counterpart.

"Believe me, we came back here to win. I have more determination probably than I had last year, and I mean that from the fact that that's how much I want it, and I think I know how much our players want it."

A year ago, the Phillies took a 2-0 lead at home and went on to beat the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS before defeating Tampa Bay to win the World Series.

Now, they're trying to become the first repeat World Series winners since Torre's Yankees did so from 1998 to 2000.

"When you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there," Torre said. "You've got a bull's-eye on your back. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up."

This year, the Dodgers own home-field advantage against the team they beat four times in seven games during the regular season.

"Because we're the ones that took it away from them, they definitely want to prove something," Hamels said. "If I'm able to go out and execute strikes and really get ahead of them, I can definitely make this a better game for my pitching."

Torre went with Kershaw because he came up big in the Dodgers' division-clinching win against Colorado on Oct. 3. Kershaw pitched six scoreless innings in that game, striking out his first five batters and retiring his first 11 in a row.

"He's the most mature 21-year-old kid I've run across," teammate Randy Wolf said. "At the same time, he's stubborn and that's good because I don't want a pushover guy. If he's throwing strikes, he's pretty amazing."

The rest of the Dodgers' rotation will be Vicente Padilla, Hiroki Kuroda and Wolf, who would pitch Game 4 against his old team in Philadelphia.

Chad Billingsley, who led the Dodgers with 12 wins, will pitch out of the bullpen in the series.

"I have no problem with it," Billingsley said, according to MLB.com. "I've always told Joe that whatever situation he puts me in, I'll always do the best I can. If this is what he thinks is best for the club, why should I get upset or frustrated? We're here to win games. We're not here for individual achievements."

Jon Garland, who won three games for the Dodgers after being acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, was left off the NLCS roster.

Kershaw will be backed by a starting lineup of Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Casey Blake, James Loney, Ronnie Belliard and Russell Martin.

Ramirez wasn't a factor in the first two games of the division series against St. Louis, going 1-for-8, but he broke out with three hits and two RBIs in Game 3 to close out the sweep.

"I'm comfortable all the time, my confidence level is up all the time," he said. "I'm just excited and can't wait to see what happens. The rest of the guys grew up a lot. They're more ready this time."

Manuel wouldn't disclose his rotation beyond Hamels.

Kershaw was 0-2 against the Phillies in the regular season, but he plans an aggressive approach Thursday.

"That's what I try to do every time," he said. "I'm not trying to sit up there and walk people or try and pitch around someone else. You can't go out there with that mindset. They've got a great lineup. But the pitcher's job is just to go right after them with your best stuff."

The Dodgers worked out Wednesday in light rain and 89 percent humidity. The rain had ended by the time the Phillies took the field. Thursday's forecast calls for a high of 78 degrees.

Reliever Jeff Weaver was sent home from practice with flu-like symptoms. He's the third member of the team to fall ill this week. Martin was sent home Tuesday. Hitting coach Don Mattingly also has been ill. However, Martin and Mattingly were both feeling better at Wednesday's workout.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.