Clayton Kershaw exuding ‘lightness’ after shedding World Series failure weight

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers against the Royals on Friday.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw delivers against the Royals on Friday. Kershaw gave up two hits and struck out two in two scoreless innings in his spring debut.
(Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

One daunting opponent fell off the Dodgers’ schedule this season — the Dodgers. Or, to be more precise, the ghosts of Dodgers’ past, all those clubs that came up short before the Dodgers finally won their first World Series since 1988 last October.

“This year, it’s 29 other opponents, but I think in years’ past, it’s been 29 opponents plus the burden of 31 years of not winning the World Series,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday. “That was our opponent each year.”

No player felt that burden more than pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the longest-tenured Dodger and face of the franchise who bore the brunt of World Series failures against the Houston Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018 and the National League Division Series meltdown against the Washington Nationals in 2019.

Though he is no longer the team’s ace — Walker Buehler assumed that title last season — Kershaw shined in the World Series against Tampa Bay, allowing one run and two hits and striking out eight in six innings of an 8-3 Game 1 victory, and two runs and five hits and striking out six in 5-2/3 innings of a 4-2 Game 5 win.


A year ago, the Dodgers gave Jimmy Nelson a one-year, $1.25-million contract hoping he’d bounce back from injury. He didn’t, but he gets a do-over.

March 5, 2021

Asked Friday if he noticed a certain “lightness” to Kershaw this spring, Roberts said, “Yeah, I think so. … I think winning the World Series, having that weight off your shoulders certainly is evident in Clayton’s kind of overall demeanor.”

Kershaw, who gave up two hits and struck out two in two scoreless innings of his spring debut in Friday’s 7-5 exhibition win over the Kansas City Royals in Surprise Stadium, chuckled when told of Roberts’ comment.

“I must just have a better personality this year — maybe I was just kind of a bum the last 10 years,” said Kershaw, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner and eight-time All-Star who turns 33 on March 19.

“But yeah, maybe you don’t really realize what you’re carrying while you’re carrying it. Maybe the burden to win after 32 years is finally off, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less motivated to win this year.”

When the Dodgers won the decisive Game 6 over the Rays in Globe Life Field, Kershaw thrust both arms into the air as he bolted out of the bullpen and headed toward the Dodgers dogpile. At one point during the celebration, he shared a long embrace with Roberts, who told Kershaw how happy he was for him.


“I think he realized how many people were kind of going through it with him,” Roberts said of Kershaw’s jubilation after a string of postseason failures. “When you see the joy that people have for him personally, that resonates with you.

As of today, only the Giants among California’s five MLB teams can admit more than 100 fans, but Dodgers and Angels are close to falling out of the purple tier.

March 5, 2021

“I think that’s something that landed with him. I’m not trying to speak for him, but he’s had his great track record, and that was the only box that remained to be checked.”

Kershaw has a 175-76 career record and 2.43 earned-run average in 13 seasons with 2,526 strikeouts in 2,333 innings. He made a franchise-record eight straight opening-day starts from 2011 to 2018 before his streak was snapped by a shoulder injury in 2019.

Roberts has not decided who will pitch the team’s April 1 opener at Colorado — with Buehler, 2020 NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer and Kershaw, he has no shortage of options.

But it might actually be more meaningful this season for Kershaw to start the April 9 home opener against the Nationals, a 1 p.m. game that is expected to be preceded by a ceremony in which players receive their World Series rings and a championship flag is raised in Chavez Ravine.

“Opening day is special — that’s an honor — but the home opener this year is very special,” Kershaw said. “The first time at Dodger Stadium with fans after winning the World Series for the first time in 32 years. … Whether there are 10 fans or 2,500 fans or 10,000 fans, whatever it is, it’s gonna be a special day for all of us.”