Instead, he’ll win the ball in Game 4 on Thursday – following the Dodgers’ 15-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves – with some of the highest stakes he’s ever faced.
It’s the difference between tying that NLCS at two games apiece or falling behind 3-1, a hole only 15% of teams have bounced off in a best-of-seven series. It’s the difference between breathing new life into this incredibly talented team or put their season on the brink sooner than expected.
Could this be the most important start of Kershaw’s career?
There was also Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS, when Kershaw allowed seven runs in over four innings to end the Dodgers season; Game 4 of the 2015 NL Division Series, when he pitched seven innings with a one-run ball to force a tie-breaker 5; Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS, when he was charged with five runs in the first five innings of an elimination loss to the Chicago Cubs; and Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, when he first landed a four-point lead and then a three-point lead to help tip the scales in the Houston Astros’ favor.
But the Dodgers, as good as they’ve come through their streak of eight straight division titles, have never been this well. Few teams have ever done it. The disappointment of not even making it to the final round with this squad would trigger a new level of disappointment for a Dodgers fan base that still clamors for the first title in a generation. A loss on Thursday wouldn’t just require three straight wins; you’d have to beat both Max Fried and Ian Anderson, two blooming young starters who have limited the Dodgers to one run in 10 innings this series.
Much has been done about the difference between Kershaw’s regular season ERA (2.43 in 2,333 innings) and playoff ERA (4.23 in 172 innings, despite dominating the Milwaukee Brewers in the round of wild-card) and what it might or might not say about his response to big moments. But the area numbers don’t tell the whole story. There were certainly some hiccups along the way. But there was also a certain brilliance. And there have been numerous instances where the Dodgers have put Kershaw in uncompromising positions, either extending him too long or using him out of the pen with little rest.
Most of the time, however, Kershaw’s dominant thought of a “choker” is rooted in the most important memories.
A great performance in Game 4 – after another back injury, against a big power attack, in his hometown, with his team in shock – may change part of that.