CINCINNATI -- Clayton Kershaw took the ball Sunday, and Adrian Gonzalez crushed it.
Wild from inactivity but assured by surgeons that he would not put his career at risk, Kershaw and his injured hip scrambled through five innings in a no-decision start he wasn't scheduled to make, but one that made an inspirational impact on his entire club.
With the focus on the pitcher, the slugger the Dodgers traded for and have been waiting for -- Gonzalez -- belted a pair of homers to help beat the Reds, 5-3, and keep the Dodgers three games back for the second National League Wild Card berth with nine games to play.
"He's incredible," Gonzalez said of Kershaw. "One of the top three pitchers in the game, going out in a gutsy effort, not feeling 100 percent. Unbelievable."
The Dodgers, who have had so much trouble scoring, took the game with a four-run seventh inning that saw Hanley Ramirez leave after fouling a pitch off his left shin. But Ramirez said X-rays were negative and he expects to play when the next series opens in San Diego on Tuesday night.
Ramirez's replacement, Dee Gordon, committed a throwing error in the eighth inning that preceded the first career home run by Denis Phipps off Ronald Belisario, and nearly another one on the game's final play. But Gonzalez saved the errant throw and reliever Brandon League got the save.
Kershaw, allowed by management to pitch for the first time in 12 days despite a right hip impingement, walked a season-high five in five innings with a hit batter and was charged with one run on five hits against a Reds lineup that rested half its regulars after Saturday night's division-clinching victory.
"I felt fine. Physically fine," said Kershaw. "Obviously, I was out of rhythm, didn't throw many strikes, but it wasn't because of the hip. It was 12 days of not pitching. As much as you think it doesn't affect it, it probably does a little bit."
The 24-year-old Kershaw said he had no reservations about risking further injury and his future.
"I know myself pretty good, I know what I can and can't do," he said. "I feel I was pretty honest getting everybody on board. I hope I can make a couple more [starts]. Right now, we'll just see how I feel tomorrow. That's everybody's mentality right now, how I come out of it."
Well, not everybody was on board. Not his catcher and good friend A.J. Ellis, who later conceded that Kershaw became an inspiration for the team.
"We played our butts off for him. The guy doesn't have to be out there," said Ellis, who snapped an 0-for-30 slump with a ninth-inning double. "He showed what kind of teammate and competitor he is. We wanted it for him.
"Honestly, I was not 100 percent on board with him doing it, but it was not my decision. They told me what to look for, but this is our ace, our future, one of the best pitchers in baseball. The organization did the right thing. Give them credit for letting him go out and pitch."
Kershaw pitched his best at the end, striking out three of the last four Reds, but by then his pitch count was up to 92, only 52 for strikes. And his spot in the batting order led off the sixth inning, so manager Don Mattingly lifted Kershaw for pinch-hitter Juan Uribe, who hadn't appeared in a game since Aug. 26.
Kershaw and Mattingly were seen having an animated discussion about the move in the dugout between innings. Uribe singled and was stranded.
"I wasn't pitching that great, but I never want to pitch five innings and call it a day," said Kershaw.
"I don't mind," Mattingly said of Kershaw's dissent. "I'm not going to let him run into 100-something pitches after 12 days off. He had battled all the way through and we needed to score runs."
After pitching into and out of a bases-loaded jam in a 19-pitch first inning, Kershaw was rewarded with an early lead when Gonzalez led off the second inning with a homer, his first since his first at-bat as in a Dodgers uniform.
Kershaw gave up the lead in the bottom of the third because of wildness. He walked former Dodger Wilson Valdez and Joey Votto, then Todd Frazier flipped a tough down-and-away slider into center field to score Valdez and tie the game at 1.
Kershaw then pitched out of another bases-loaded jam in the fourth by striking out Votto.
Leading off the seventh, Gonzalez gave the Dodgers the lead with his second home run for his first multihomer game this year. He is 8-for-15 with five home runs lifetime against Homer Bailey.
"Today is the first day I finally felt something work," said Gonzalez, who has lacked the power the Dodgers thought they were getting when they swung the nine-player blockbuster deal with Boston. "I tweaked my approach and felt good in the cage, and carried it into the game. It's the best to see results and keep doing it."
Said Bailey: "If you want to get Adrian Gonzalez hot, come down and play me. He's done a lot of damage against me. The two balls he hit tonight were out of the zone and he still hits them out. He's just a tough out for me."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.