Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports

Clayton Kershaw made the slow trudge to that lonely spot in the dugout once again, this time just a few miles from his hometown. The settings change. The circumstances evolve, yet it always seems to come down to Clayton Kershaw getting stretched a little too far, a good bullpen failing to pick him up, a high-powered offense coming up small, a well-oiled machine breaking down at the worst possible time.

The Dodgers’ longtime ace can’t shake his playoff curse, not even on friendly turf in a neutral-site NL Championship Series.

At the start of the sixth inning against Atlanta, Kershaw faltered, allowing three straight hits before watching the rest of the six-run outburst in the Braves’ 10-2 win in Game 4 on Thursday night. That provided a commanding 3-1 series lead and, based on the seven-game postseason series history, giving Atlanta an 85% chance of advancing to the World Series. The Dodgers, 43-17 with a plus-136 run differential during the shortened regular season, are one loss away from a stunning elimination.

When Kershaw jogged to the mound for that bottom of the sixth, he had given up only one run and had used up only 71 of his pitches. The top of the Braves’ order was due up. As Kershaw navigated through his at-bat with leadoff hitter Ronald Acuna Jr., Brusdar Graterol began to warm. By the time Acuna legged out an infield single and moved to second base on an errant throw, Graterol was almost ready. After Freddie Freeman laced an RBI double to right field, away from a shifted Mookie Betts, Graterol was looking on, waiting. After Marcell Ozuna lined another RBI double into the left-center-field gap, his second of four hits, it was too late.

Kershaw’s franchise-high 12th postseason loss put Los Angeles down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series at. LA is on the brink of a second straight defeat in the NLCS after posting the majors’ best record during the pandemic-shortened season.

Pitching two days after he was scratched from a Game 2 start because of back spasms, Kershaw allowed four runs in five-plus innings, boosting his career playoff ERA to 4.31.

While the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner is also the club’s career leader in postseason wins with his 11-12 record, his October resume doesn’t match his stellar regular-season numbers: 175-76 with a 2.43 ERA.

In LA’s seven trips to the NLCS over Kershaw’s 13 seasons, the Dallas native is 3-6 with a 4.84 ERA. And now the left-hander has been outpitched by a rookie making his postseason debut: Atlanta’s 22-year-old Game 4 winner, Bryse Wilson.