The latest “biggest start of Clayton Kershaw’s career” — how many times have we heard that one? — happens on Sunday night, in Game 5 of a World Series that’s knotted at two games apiece after Tampa Bay’s wild, more-than-slightly-unbelievable come-from-behind-with-two-outs win in the fourth contest of the series.
All eyes will be on Kershaw, the future Hall of Famer who owns a complicated, convoluted postseason legacy. But Game 5 isn’t about his legacy, at least not for Kershaw, and not for the Dodgers. At least not quite yet. Legacy talk is retrospective.
For the big lefty who has a rocking chair on the back veranda at the Otesaga Hotel in Coopertown already reserved and waiting, Game 5 is about trying to help his teammates finally win the franchise’s first World Series championship since the year he was born (1988).
For a long time Saturday night, it looked as if Kershaw would be taking the mound with the Dodgers ahead in the series 3-1 and with a chance to clinch the title. Now, though, he’s facing a much different situation with the series tied.
This is Kershaw’s third trip to the World Series, and it’s the third time he’ll start Game 5 for the Dodgers. The first two, well, they didn’t go so well.
In 2017, Kershaw took the mound in Houston with the series tied 2-2 (sound familiar?) and, after his teammates staked him to a 4-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth, failed to make it out of the fifth inning. By the time his efforts were finished, he was responsible for six earned runs in a game the Dodgers eventually lost 13-12 in 10 innings.
In 2018, the Dodgers were facing elimination, trailing the Red Sox 3-1 in the series. The two runs he gave up in the first inning — on a two-run homer by Steve Pearce — proved to be enough in a 5-1 clinching victory for Boston. Kershaw’s final line included seven innings, four earned runs and three home runs allowed.
Of course, there have been many, many postseason games where Kershaw was brilliant.
As was the case in those first two World Series, the Game 5 start will be the second time his American League opponent has faced Kershaw in a series. This will be the seventh time he has made multiple starts in the same series deep in the playoffs — NLCS or World Series — in his career. The results haven’t been great.
In those previous six starts — Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS, Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS, Game 7 of the 2017 NLCS, Game 5 of the 2015 World Series, Game 5 of the 2018 NLCS and Game 5 of the 2018 World Series — he has pitched a total of 33 2/3 innings. He has allowed 34 hits and seven walks while striking out 31. He has also allowed seven homers and 23 earned runs, leaving him with a less-than-stellar 6.15 ERA.
Here are the numbers. Two starts have been brilliant, two have been disasters and two have been “meh” at best.
Kershaw was very good in his Game 1 start against the Rays, allowing just two hits and one run while striking out eight in an 8-3 Dodgers victory. Of course, he was very good in his Game 1 start in the 2017 World Series, too, limiting the Astros to one run over seven innings that included 11 strikeouts and just three base runners — three hits, zero walks.
There is immense pressure on Kershaw’s shoulders, of course. A brilliant effort in Game 5 that leads the Dodgers to a win puts the club one victory away from a title. A bad outing that leads to a loss puts them in a bad spot. How this start impacts his legacy isn’t the concern right now.
How his start helps or hurts his team’s chances of taking home the trophy is the only concern, and that’s the kind of drama we all love to watch.
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