Clayton Kershaw sat on the Dodgers bench, looking up at Manager Don Mattingly and an assistant coach. Up until that point Kershaw had dominated the Yankees lineup three times through. Eight innings. No runs. Five hits. Five strikeouts.
The game would ultimately end in a 3-0 Dodgers defeat, but at that point it was still tied 0-0 after Kershaw worked through two groundball singles in that last frame — and he’d still only thrown 93 pitches.
“How are you doing?” Mattingly asked Kershaw, who was due to bat second in the bottom of the eighth. Kershaw looked up and responded. Accordingly to Mattingly, the reply wasn’t positive enough to merit a return to the mound in the ninth.
“I can always tell,” Mattingly said. “We can tell now with Clayton it’s either ‘I’m good, I got this’ or he gives you a different answer. He won’t ever tell you that he won’t go back out, but I could tell he’d had enough.”
Kershaw popped up, walked to the shelf of batting helmets, pulled his out and put it on his head. Turning back to the coaches, the conversation continued. Kershaw straightened both arms by his waist and turned his palms over in what appeared to be pleading disapproval.
Kershaw sat back down, but after a minute Mattingly walked away.
He did come out to bat in that eighth inning, laying down a sacrifice bunt to move Juan Uribe to second, before Ronald Belisaro took the mound for the ninth and the Dodgers imploded.
Back in the dugout, Kershaw continued to appear angry as Hanley Ramirez sat to his left, patting his leg in comfort.
“It was tough,” Kershaw said. “I think I put Donnie in a tough spot.”
Belisario allowed two walks and Lyle Overbay tagged an RBI single to center before an embarrassing error by second baseman Mark Ellis broke the game open. Jayson Nix lifted a pop fly to shallow right that Ellis dropped, seemingly at least in part because right fielder Yasiel Puig did not call for it until the last second.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from [Kershaw] to be frustrated about coming out of the game,” Catcher A.J. Ellis said. “… We let him down offensively tonight. It’s a shame with the way he threw the ball tonight, we’re not celebrating a win tonight.”
Standing by his locker in the clubhouse after the game, Kershaw dressed quickly. The frustraion was clear, and initially it appeared that he expected Mattingly to have said something critical or explanatory regarding what unfolded between them. But Mattingly only talked about seeing Kershaw’s inability to continue pitching, as outlined above.
“We’ll just leave it with what he said, I guess,” Kershaw said.
When asked if he knew whether or not he was coming out after the bunt, Kershaw reiterated: “We’ll leave it at that.”
The performance marked Kershaw’s 17th straight outing of six innings or more. It lowered his major-league-leading earned-run average to 1.87.
But having to watch that disastrous ninth inning may well be the thought Kershaw leaves the ballpark with.
“It was okay, obviously,” he said of the overall performance, “but there’s some stuff that could’ve been better.”