Kershaw not worried about his October legacy
Not that we encourage drinking, but this trivia question could win you a bar bet: How many times has Clayton Kershaw started the All-Star Game?
Terry Collins did not know. So, in 2016, when he managed the National League All-Star team, he went right to the source.
“None,” Kershaw said.
“You won three Cy Youngs and you haven’t started a stinking All-Star Game?” Collins said.
“No,” Kershaw said.
Still hasn’t. No matter.
He has those three National League Cy Young awards, and a most valuable player award too. But, on a night when Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant were in the house, when Kirk Gibson and Dennis Eckersley teamed to throw out a touching first pitch, when Sandy Koufax watched intently from the owners’ box, the reminders of what Kershaw does not have loomed.
Magic and Kobe have five rings apiece. Koufax has four, Gibson two, Eckersley one.
Kershaw could end his grand Dodgers career without one, and sooner than you think.
If the Dodgers win on Sunday, they would be one more win from playing Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday. If the Dodgers lose on Sunday, their season is done, and Wednesday would be the last day for Kershaw to tell the team whether he is opting out of his contract.
The Dodgers’ starting pitcher on Sunday? None other than Kershaw.
Win Sunday, keep hope alive. Lose Sunday, and the ghosts of October might live forever.
How much does Kershaw care about his Dodgers legacy, and how this one game might help define it?
“Very little,” he said. “I don’t really care about legacy. I don’t really care what people think of me or perceive of me. Game 5 is a very important game to win the World Series, and I’m looking forward to pitching that game and hopefully putting us in a great spot going back to Boston.
“And that’s really all I care about. All that other stuff, people are going to have their opinions, you know, and that’s fine. I’m not here to change them. I’m here to pitch. And all that other stuff will take care of itself.”
Rick Honeycutt, the only major league pitching coach Kershaw has known, hears frustration but also focus in those words.
If fans have decided Kershaw cannot prosper in October, well, there is nothing he can say to persuade them otherwise, and no time to waste in trying.
“He can’t control how other people are going to skew what happens,” Honeycutt said.
Kershaw counsels the Dodgers’ pitchers, outworks everyone on the team, and never ducks responsibility. His trophy case overflows, and he has the lowest earned-run average of any starting pitcher to throw at least 1,000 innings in the past century.
He should win election to Cooperstown on the first ballot, and in a landslide.
This season should be the first since 2010 that he does not finish in the top five of the Cy Young vote.
That is seven years of dominance. Koufax earned his plaque in the Hall of Fame with six, and in only the final four did he finish in the top three of the Cy Young vote.
And yet, the Koufax for the current generation has pitched in two World Series, and so far won none. Koufax, the original, pitched in four World Series, winning three. His catalog of heroics went far beyond skipping a World Series start to observe the holiest of Jewish holidays, then throwing a complete game on two days rest.
Of course that is unfair. If one player could throw a team on his shoulders and steer them into a parade, we’d be watching Mike Trout play this week.
Yet it is reality. If championships did not define greatness, Trout would have signed a new contract with the Angels long ago. Can he win in Anaheim? Who knows? Not him, not now.
Kershaw can win here, and win now.
The “best pitcher on the planet” title has been retired, at least temporarily. Kershaw remains in the conversation, with the likes of Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, and Blake Snell.
And with Chris Sale.
In that 2016 All-Star Game, the one in which Kershaw would have started had he not been injured, Sale started for the American League. Sale started for the AL last year, and again this year. That is three consecutive starts, and three more in all than the most acclaimed pitcher of this generation.
Sale is the scheduled starter for the Boston Red Sox in Game 6, and he could have the chance to pitch his team into the World Series. That would mean the Dodgers would have won Game 5, to force Game 6.
Kershaw starts for the Dodgers in Game 5, with another chance to polish the legacy about which he professes not to care.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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