Clayton Kershaw's Implosion

The Dodgers season is over.

Jim Rome
October 10, 2019 - 9:34 am
Clayton Kershaw

USA Today

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Dodger fans, how you livin? How are you feeling today? I’m guessing pretty horribly. I cannot imagine what the last 24 hours have been like for you. That all day grip, leaving up to the game, knowing that to go one and done with this crew would be a disaster, but at the same time, knowing there was no way Walker Buehler was going to let that happen. 

And then the game started. And it could not have started any better. Buehler goes 1-2-3 in the top of the first and then in the bottom of the first, Joc Pederson comes up.

Ground rule double. Nearly a home run. And what Pederson didn’t do, Max Muncy did.

2-0 Dodgers. And as filthy as Stephen Strasburg had been, no sooner than he stepped into the ring, he started eating punches. The Dodgers were landing at will, and it didn’t look Strasburg had a chance of defending himself. As I tweeted last night, the Dodgers had found their bats and Strasburg was finding them too, with nearly every pitch.

Then, in the bottom of the second, Kee-Kay Hernandez, who was a surprise addition to the lineup, jumped ship.

That had just enough to get out and just enough to give the Dodgers a 3-0 lead. And with the way Walker Buehler was pitching, 3-0 might as well have been 30-0. He was nasty. Talk about someone ready for the moment. Talk about someone being built for the moment. This dude’s a horse. He is the guy you want on the mound in that situation. A guy born for the moment; and no one wants to be that guy more Buehler.

And with each inning that he dominated, LA was getting closer and closer to partying.

But something else was happening. Strasburg had settled in. When LA got up on him, I was thinking to myself, you better choke this guy out while you have the chance. You better bury this dude, because if you don’t and you allow him to settle in, you’re going to have a huge problem. And that’s exactly what happened. Strasburg did settle in... And then you realize, it’s not going to be the blowout Dodger fans had been feeling after two innings; and that three run isn’t safe at all.

Because, and it’s already been beaten into the ground, but this Nationals team is tough as hell. They don’t turtle. They don’t rattle. You can’t intimidate them. They’re going to stay in the fight. And to beat them, you have to kill them; and the Dodgers had their chance but couldn’t do it. 

Then, Anthony Rendon led off the top of the sixth with a double. Juan Soto singled. And now it’s 3-1 LA and the grip is on at Dodgers Stadium. But Buehler did what a champ does in that situation: double play, strikeout, inning over.

That was brass. Brass as hell.

And then in the bottom of the sixth, Cody Bellinger led off with a single and stole second. But Strasburg did exactly what Buehler had done before him, only better: Strikeout. Strikeout. Strikeout.

So tough. So impressive. And the Dodgers waste another opportunity. Runner in scoring position with no outs. And got nothing.  At that point, you had to know that missed opportunity was going to come back to bite them in the ass. 

Then came the top of the 7th.  Just 9 more outs, but you know they’re going to be the toughest 9 outs ever

Buehler hits Kurt Suzuki with a pitch that left Suzuki on the ground for a while. That was a scary moment, the kind that could rattle a pitcher. And you couldn’t help but wonder how Buehler would respond. Well…he got the next two outs, then gave up a walk. And that was it for Buehler. He did his job. He pitched into the 7th, left with a 3-1 and handed it to the bullpen to do its job. Of course, in a game five situation, it’s all hands on deck, so Dave Roberts came out of the dugout and made the call: Clayton Kershaw.

And Dodger Stadium held its breath. Clayton Kershaw entering the game, as a reliever, with two on and two out in a two-run game. Everyone in that stadium knows the narrative. Everyone in the WORLD knows the narrative. Most of you had already pre-written your tweets and were just waiting to hit send. Everyone knows the narrative, including Clayton Kershaw, who badly wanted the ball anyway…

And he struck the guy out.

And that place exploded. And because everyone in that stadium knows the narrative, Kershaw, coming in that dirty and filthy, to get them out of the inning was an enormous weight lifted off of everyone’s shoulders. He was about to take a big step towards rewriting the narrative, and the Dodgers were now just 6 outs from advancing. And Dodger fan was feeling and partying throughout the 7th inning stretch:

LA went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh. And then came the eighth inning. And Dodger fans, this is going to hurt you a helluva lot more than it hurts me, because I don’t root: but I do call it like a see it, and we were all about to see a catastrophe….starting with Kershaw’s first pitch to Anthony Rendon and then Juan Soto.

Back to back home runs on back to back pitchers. Soto absolutely shattered that ball. And shattered that stadium. From 3-1 to 3-3 in a heartbeat.

Kershaw’s first three pitches were filthy smoke. And his next two were flat out smoked.

And like that, the game was tied, and Kershaw was out of the game.

Kenta Maeda came in. Strike out. Strike out. Strike out. 

Then Joe Kelly in the ninth.

Then Joe Kelly in the tenth. Instead of Kenley Jansen. And it did not go well.

Walk, ground rule double, intentional walk. And Dave Roberts doesn’t come for Kelly.  He would later say he loved the way he was throwing it and that he was his most rested reliever. Next up, Howie Kendrick. I hit my guy D dub, with the text, “this is NOT the guy you want to see with a bat in his hand right.” I don’t have a crystal ball. That’s not some genius baseball take: I just seen enough  of this guy with both the Dodgers and the Angels, to know how dangerous he is with a bad in his hand…Roberts was thinking, I need a ground ball: I’ve got a ground ball pitcher, and a ground ball hitter, I like my chances.  Unfortunately, ol Howie got one in the air:

Howie Bleeping Kendrick. If you need him. Had a brutal series in the field and erased it all with one swing of the bat. What a legend. Singlehanded ripped the heart out of every dodger fan who has ever lived. Snatched every last one of their souls…that was some Jack Clark, Tom Niedenfuer ish right there, for you old schoolers.  ... From up 3-1 at the start of the eighth to losing 7-3 in the 10th.

The best team in the national league all season: the best regular season team in Dodger history: the team that was finally going to get it done: the crew that was finally going to get over: this was the year where the Dodgers finally finished and shut everyone up. And instead, they implode in the most spectacular fashion imaginable, and everyone is rushing into dump gasoline on the gigantic dumpster fire where Chavez Ravine stood just hours earlier. And every person in that clubhouse knows it.  Starting with Clayton Kershaw, quote:

"Everything people say is true right now about the postseason."

How do you not feel for this guy: I know a lot of don’t? Especially given who he is and what he makes. But is a class dude and a stand-up guy, and once again, had the worst possible night at the worst possible time. And to his credit, was owning. A lot of other guys would deny the narrative; say we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about; or duck out altogether. Kershaw didn’t do any of that. He owned it. Completely. 

And no, he’s not the pitcher he once way, and yes, that narrative is fair and accurate. For whatever reason, the future Hall of Famer isn’t just mortal in the postseason, he’s supremely hittable.

So, those back-to-back home runs, as stunning as they were, also weren’t that stunning at all.   Not when you consider this guy has never given up back to back homeruns in a regular season game, but has now done it twice in the postseason. So, of course, that’s going to stick to him. It should. And he knows it.

And it’s going to raise questions about Dave Roberts, lots of questions, starting with why he stayed with Kershaw as long as he did?

On the surface, the answer is obvious: would you like to bring in a Hall of Famer in a must-win game? Every time. Well, not every time. Not if that Hall of Famer is Clayton Kershaw. Then that answer should be no.

And I say that as someone who has nothing but respect for Kershaw as a pitcher. One of the greatest you will ever see. And that’s no exaggeration. A sure fire hall of famer. But in this case, it should have been a case of what have you done for me lately, not what have you done in the past. Because the truth, the only reason he was still in the game was because of the name on the back of his jersey and his reputation: and not what he’s doing right now. 

Especially when his fastball and slider no longer have gap in speed. And when he’s been getting guys out with his brain more than his arm. But Roberts trusts him. He’s loyal to him. He believed Kershaw could get it done. And he came back to bit them both.

The problem isn’t just that Kershaw was in the game, it’s that there were a number of better options available instead of him. From Kenta Maeda, who was filthy when he came in to clean up the damage? Or Pedro Baez.

And it wasn’t just that Kershaw came into the game in that spot, it’s that Joe Kelly stayed in the game after his ninth inning. And don’t get me wrong, he was great in the ninth. But he was a disaster in the tenth. He’d tell you himself. Kelly hadn’t gone longer than an inning in a month and a half. And the tenth inning of an elimination game, is the worst time to stretch it out.

Again, because there were other options. And Roberts owned that: "If the blame falls on me, I’ve got no problem with it."

If you want to blame Roberts, that’s fine. And if you want to blame Kershaw and Kelly, that’s fine too. They all picked a really bad night to have their worst night.

But there’s plenty more blame to go around. Cody Bellinger, the likely MVP, hit .211 with 0 homer and 0 RBI. Corey Seager batted .150. As a team, they hit .220 for the series.

You could not ask for a team to handle a gutting loss better than the Dodgers just did. But as Dodger haters would point out, they’ve had a lot of practice.

There’s not getting around it.  It’s a castrophe for the Dodgers. The type of thing they’ll hope to beyond but will never get over. And tip your hat to the Nats: they’re tough as hell. They outplayed, outpitched, out clutched, outclassed and out managed L.A.: they deserve to advance. And ask them, and they’ll tell you they’re not done yet. As for L.A., its’ going to be a really interesting offseason, because the regular couldn’t have gone any better, and now that doesn’t matter at all.  No one will remember anything about that.  Just what happened last night at Chavez Ravine.