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It wasn't too much belief in Clayton Kershaw but not enough in bullpen

It wasn't too much belief in Clayton Kershaw but not enough in bullpen
Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw waits on the mound after giving up a three-run double to Matt Carpenter in an eight-run seventh inning. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Legacies are made in the postseason. It's where memories are formed, images are permanently etched and moments become eternal.

Clayton Kershaw longs to create such a memory on baseball’s grandest stage. He’s a player who’s done everything right -- honed his gifts, worked diligently to be the best pitcher he can be, won his share of awards -- yet he lacks that crowning postseason moment.

He seemed well on his way to building such a postseason legacy Friday in the Dodgers’ division series opener against the Cardinals when everything came crashing down.

If he seemed to melt during that eight-run seventh inning, in a game that started in 92-degree heat, it had less do to with Kershaw reaching the wall than the Dodgers again revealing their greatest failing -- an inconsistent bullpen.

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Kershaw had given up five hits to seven batters to start the seventh, and Manager Don Mattingly left him in. He walked out to the mound, looked in Kershaw’s eyes and elected to stick with his greatest competitor.

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"It's hard to take Clayton out," Mattingly said.

It is with that erratic bullpen. Any other time, any other situation, the manager signals for a reliever.

But the seventh and eighth innings have been the Land of the Unknown all season for the Dodgers, a great adventure with an uncertain ending. Mattingly has understandable confidence in Kershaw, but clearly precious little in his bullpen.

Kershaw had reached the 100-pitch mark, but still he stayed in against Matt Carpenter, that rare hitter who has historically given him problems. With the bases loaded and two out, Carpenter capped a memorable at-bat by drilling a three-run double off the right-center-field wall to give the Cardinals a 7-6 lead.

Fear of using the bullpen cost the Dodgers. And then actually using it did. It's an old story, dusted off and made postseason-fresh.

Pedro Baez is a converted third baseman, but Mattingly has so little faith in his veteran relievers, he called on his overmatched rookie to replace Kershaw in a one-run game. Baez gave up a walk and then a three-run homer to Matt Holliday.

That final blow would hold up as the difference in the crushing 10-9 loss.

Kershaw deserved better than tying Chad Billingsley in the team history books as the only pitchers to give up eight runs in a postseason game. He deserved a lot better than being left out there laboring on the mound, losing for the first time in his career when the Dodgers had scored at least four runs in his start.

Kershaw will likely win his third National League Cy Young Award this year, and possibly his first MVP. He had a remarkable season.

But he knows well that real reputations are built upon postseason success. He looks at the acclaim rained upon Derek Jeter this season and knows much of it comes from his having won five World Series championships.

"You need that," Kershaw said before the series started. "At the end of the day, if you want to be remembered in baseball, you need that."

Now one of the greatest pitchers of our time could have part of his final legacy stained by what some will deem his postseason failing. He also was hit hard by the Cardinals last season in the final game of the National League Championship Series.

He deserves better than that. And a championship team deserves a bullpen it can believe in.

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