Column: It’s not Classic Kershaw in World Series opener


They began singing the song in the first inning, loud enough to be heard through the strong winds, powerful enough to cut through a deep chill.

“Ker-shaw, Ker-shaw, Ker-shaw…”

The Boston Red Sox fans were reciting the last name of one of the greatest regular season pitchers in Dodgers history. But this is Clayton Kershaw’s witching season, and the words were not tribute but taunt.

“Ker-shaw, Ker-shaw, Ker-shaw …”

Once again, continuing a trend that is as baffling as it is bristling, a Dodgers pitcher headed for lifetime in Cooperstown couldn’t survive a night in October. Once again, Kershaw’s struggles meant the Dodgers stumbled, this time in an 8-4 loss to the Red Sox Tuesday at Fenway Park in Game 1 of the 114th World Series.


“We come here, we try to battle, we try to win,” said Manny Machado afterward, shaking his head. “Sometimes things happen.”

As usual this time of year, a bunch of those things happened to Kershaw, the Dodgers ace who has made a career out of mixing classic postseason starts with clunkers.

Coming off his classic win in the National League Championship Series against Milwaukee last week, this was one of those clunkers.

“I didn’t pitch very well,” said Kershaw plainly, answering questions he’s heard a million times. “I felt great, but I just didn’t pitch very well.”

On a windy night with temperatures in the 40s and the crowd huddling and jeering, Kershaw took the mound in short sleeves, but was soon even more exposed.


It started on his second pitch, when first baseman David Freese got turned around and allowed a foul pop from Mookie Betts to fall harmlessly to the dirt. Betts eventually singled and scored one of two Red Sox runs in the first, with three of the first four Boston batters collecting singles.

“That ball needed to be caught,” said Freese. “You want to get the ‘W’ for Kersh.”

It ended with Kershaw getting pinned with another ‘L’ after he left the game with runners on first and second on a walk and a single in the fifth, then watched both runners score.

“All the way around, not a great night,” said Kershaw.

In his final tally, he gave up five runs in four innings, but that’s not the worst of it. The biggest problem was when he allowed the runs. Twice the Red Sox took the lead, twice the Dodgers tied the score, but twice Kershaw gave it back.

“This is a hard team to beat, no matter what,” said Kershaw, and it’s certainly impossible when your starting pitcher can’t sustain any momentum.

Giving back leads is something Kershaw did in his last World Series start, last season’s Game 5 against the Houston Astros, when he helped the Dodgers blow three-run and four-run advantages in an eventual loss that cost them perhaps their best chance at a securing the title.

Giving up runs in postseason is something Kershaw has done oddly and frequently. The difference in his regular-season ERA and postseason ERA is the highest among all pitchers in baseball history with at least a dozen postseason starts.


In four World Series appearances, Kershaw has a 5.23 ERA. In 29 postseason appearances, he is 9-9 with a 4.28 ERA

Yet in his regular season career, he is 153-69 with a 2.39 ERA.

There has been much talk all season about Kershaw’s ability this winter to opt out of the final two years of a contract with $65 million remaining. Could this be his last year in blue? Maybe he’ll take his talents elsewhere for a better contract?

It says there that if the Dodgers value legacy and history, they should figure out a way to keep him. They need a statue, they need a new Hall of Famer in a Los Angeles cap.

But they must be willing to make that commitment knowing that, for now, for whatever reason, one of their two greatest left-handers ever is inconsistent when the moment is at its biggest.

Kershaw still needs that first championship to be truly compared to Sandy Koufax, and on Tuesday, the Dodgers’ latest attempt to end that 30-year drought didn’t go well.

“I don’t think he had the fastball command that he typically does.… I don’t think his slider had the depth that we’re used to seeing,” said Manager Dave Roberts. “And [we] didn’t make Clayton’s job any easier.”


Indeed they did not.

The Dodgers offense failed repeatedly to cash in on potentially big moments against several Boston relievers, including managing runs only a Machado grounder with runners on second and third with none out in the fifth, and on a Machado fly with bases loaded and one out in the seventh.

“We had opportunities. You got to show up, especially this time of year,” said Freese, who struck out in that dreadful fifth. “You just got to get it done, you’ve got to play really good baseball.”

There were problems at the plate, in the field, and even in the dugout. Roberts will come under fire for a questionable lifting of reliever Pedro Baez with runners on first and second and two out in the seventh inning of a 5-4 game. Baez had struck out two of the three batters he faced, the other was intentionally walked, and he had the overpowering stuff of someone who has been the Dodgers’ best reliever for the last two months.

But then Roberts played the percentages, pulling the righty Baez rather than have him face left-handed hitting Rafael Devers, and instead chose to have unsettled reliever Alex Wood face Eduardo Nunez.

Two pitches later, Nunez sent a curveball soaring into the night sky for a three-run homer over the left-field Green Monster to clinch it.


“We talked about it with Petey throwing the ball well right there,” said Roberts. “But Devers is really good against the right-hander.… I really liked Alex in that spot, I did.”

The evening that began with one song ended with another one, the crowd standing and victoriously chanting, “Beat L.A … Beat L.A.”

The Dodgers have as many as six more chances to shut them up. Kershaw could pitch in two more of those games.

More than a drought is at stake. So, too, is a legacy.

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke