ARLINGTON, Texas – Cali Kershaw, 5, a nuclear power beam, jitterbug around the room, under the table, and above, side by side, wherever space permits. Her little brother Charley, 3, tried to keep up, to the point that their father, Clayton Kershaw, felt the need to offer a nudge / apology. “You are crazy,” he said.
It was about 30 minutes after winning Game 5 of the 116th World Series, his second victory, the one that pushed the Los Angeles Dodgers to the brink of their first championship in more than three decades. His long hair, his still scruffy beard, his still cherubic face, his hardened resolve, he hadn’t done his best, and that was OK. Afterwards, Cali had told him that she was proud of him, and that was a lot.
A guy sticks around long enough and you watch him grow into the man he’s meant to be. Kershaw is 32 years old, past his prime, more a craftsman than a conqueror. And while there was an almost overwhelming instinct to measure our greatest athletes by what they once were, and nonetheless to see that as the idea of what they should be, it always felt. unfair. Because for every unicorn that watches Father Time and wins, a hundred more learn about the vagaries of age, of regression, of an endless clock ticking, and it doesn’t.
The acceptance phase is the hardest part, and that’s where Kershaw – him with the worst reputation in October from this side of the house that gives Halloween mounds – lives today. He’s not what he once was, and he doesn’t need to be, because what he is pushed the Dodgers to a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday night, this who left them a victory before their first championship since 1988 and him, so close to being measured for the ring which has not escaped any of his peers.
Here’s what Kershaw is: good enough, that is, when you’re surrounded by Dodgers talent, good enough too. He is capable of excellence, he is prone to failure, and he is generally closer to the first than to the second. He’s not a character of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Kershaw and October Kershaw, transmogrifying into a fateful creature when the calendar turns. It has flaws, needs careful handling, more prone to reliability than anything else.
He is, in other words, a father. And every October, it seems, is reminiscent of that, because Kershaw is the kind of father who brings his kids to the catwalk after a good day. In 2017, while still possessing the blessed arm that threw lightning bolts, Cali first sat next to him in a post-game press conference. And in 2018, Charley joined them. Neither was anywhere in 2019, as Kershaw wouldn’t dare expose them to the fragility of baseball, which last year nearly shattered it. He had blown a lead, blown a streak, and said, “Everything people are saying is true right now about the playoffs. “
What they said was that it wasn’t made for October, that it was a choker, that it didn’t have what it needed. No matter what he said, Kershaw never believed it. No one reaches the heights he has – three National League Cy Young Awards, an MVP award, a 2.43 regular-season career ERA – without the conviction of his manners. If there was an October bugaboo, whether mental or physical, it wouldn’t be impenetrable. It was a pitcher. And the pitchers find their way.
This playoffs was his retort. In total, 30 innings, 23 hits, 5 goals and 37 strikeouts with a 2.93 ERA and four wins. In Game 5 of the World Series, 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 goals and 6 strikeouts. Yeoman’s work for someone whose greatest attribute is no longer what his left arm can produce but the work it takes to ensure he produces at his peak.
The appreciation reverberated on Globe Life Field on Sunday, with most of the 11,437 in attendance wearing Dodger blue and bequeathing something to Kershaw in what was likely his last outing of 2020: a standing ovation. He held the lead 3-0, the Dodgers spotted him. He worked around a rough third inning in which he gave up a pair of points. He turned a scoreless first and third mess in the fourth into a neat little act of escape, securing the inning final when he heard first baseman Max Muncy yell, “Get off! ”
Behind Kershaw’s back, Rays outfielder Manuel Margot had taken off on a dead sprint, the first direct home flight attempt in a World Series game since Lonnie Smith in 1982. Kershaw shot the ball home, just right in time for wide receiver Austin Barnes to slip an inch tag before Margot’s fingers slide off the plate. In the fifth, Kershaw would break the all-time record for strikeouts in the playoffs. In the sixth, he had turned two shots into two outs when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts walked up the steps of the dugout and headed for the mound.
And what greeted him was fascinating: the boos. Not just hissing or hissing. Real, real and loud boos from all corners of the stadium. It was October and Dodgers fans were furious that Clayton Kershaw was taken out of a game. Just like the Dodgers infielders. They asked Roberts to stay with Kershaw. He refused. They wanted to believe that Kershaw was his best self. Roberts believed Kershaw had done a lot.
As he left the mound, the cheers began. They have become stronger. A 5½ innings, two-run outing is not usually the object of standing ovations, yet just as rarely is a fastball that also falls in the 91 mph range. It wasn’t just because of Game 5, but also for taking enough care to make Game 5 possible – not to retreat from the weirdness of pandemic baseball and resign yourself to the story that others have. wanted to write for him.
” It feels good. It feels good, ”Kershaw said. “Anytime you can be successful in the playoffs, it means so much. This is what you work for. This is what you are playing this month. I also know how the other end feels. I will definitely take it. when i can get it. ”
Roberts’ retirement in the dugout caused another wave of taunts, though that had always been the plan, a plan that Kershaw had come to understand, as age for him might have an inverse relationship to talent, but he has a direct one with wisdom. . Kershaw, always a fierce competitor, always wants more. He has simply learned to accept that more is not always possible or fair.
Roberts’ fortune has been inextricably linked with Kershaw. They shared some of their worst moments, and because of that, Roberts hasn’t deviated from the plan for Kershaw to face between 21 and 24 batters. After his 22nd batter, throwing 85 pitches, including 56 for strikes, most on a slider that had seen much better days, Kershaw handed the ball over to Dustin May, whose fastball registers 10 mph higher on the barrel. radar than Kershaw.
“He just ground up,” Roberts said. “He wanted up to this point. And I’ll say it wasn’t his best stuff, but he found a way out and I give him all the credit. “
Joc Pederson and Max Muncy hit solo homers, while Clayton Kershaw knocked out six hitters in the Dodgers’ Game 5 win over the Rays.
For anyone who sees this as a pedestrian because it’s not up to a standard that he himself gave up long ago, consider: what Kershaw manages to do now, diminished, is still extraordinarily impressive. . It’s just in a less obvious way. It’s a three-dimensional view of the launcher – where it is in time, what are the reasonable expectations for it, how it has evolved – in a world that gravitates towards the simplest assessment, which is to digest the numbers and spit them out. by lack of context.
This is not an absolution from Kershaw. He failed in October. He blew away games, series, seasons. In Game 5 of the 2017 World Series against Houston, its implosion could have cost the Dodgers a ring. In Game 5 of the 2018 World Series against Boston, he couldn’t stop the Red Sox crowning. In Game 5 of the 2020 World Series, however, the day after the Rays left the Dodgers like a whiplash, Kershaw calmly saved injury – the days of his teammates and his years.
Now, unless Roberts leaves the script and asks Kershaw to rest for the first time this season in a possible Game 7, it’s up to the other 27 Dodgers to give Kershaw what he has done his best to give them. He had never won two games in the playoffs before winning games 1 and 5 of this world series. A win in Game 6 on Tuesday or Game 7 on Wednesday would remove him from Cy Young’s three-time winner list without a league. He’s the only one of 10. And pitchers who have won at least four ERA titles but no World Series titles. He’s one of the 10 there too. Likewise, 10 pitchers won an MVP in the post-1961 expansion era, and Kershaw is the only one who doesn’t have a ring.
Over the next 72 hours, all of that might go away, and that would bring him back to that room, sitting at the table, talking to a camera but really to the world. He would tell them what it feels like to be a champion in the end, how it was all worth it. And right next to him would be Cali and Charley, amplified like they had a Red Bull IV, because their daddy, the one who eventually became what he was meant to be, made them proud.