The haunting is over. The gloom has lifted.
It's the middle of October on a Midwestern baseball field and a brilliant light has cut through a legacy of madness to descend upon a Dodger shedding an unsightly autumn skin.
It’s the middle of the playoffs, and
It’s two games deep into the
It’s three wins from the
"Best pitcher on the planet," said Manager Dave Roberts.
“Best baseball player on the planet,” said
He’s been better than all that during a postseason in which the
"It's fun when you win, so yeah, I mean, I'm enjoying it right now,'' said the understated Kershaw on Sunday evening in words that, for him, equate to a justifiable scream of joy.
So far this postseason, Kershaw has pitched in four games and the Dodgers have won all four games. He's not pitched in three games, and the Dodger have lost all three games.
Oh, how he's carried them, on full rest, on short rest and out of the bullpen. He's carried them in Los Angeles when it started, in Washington when it nearly ended, and finally on Sunday on the North Side of Chicago through the one moment where he's always stumbled.
Beneath a scraggly beard and sweat-soaked hair, Kershaw carried the Dodgers through a seventh inning that seemingly every autumn has stunned him like a snowstorm on Halloween.
Two postseasons ago he struggled in the seventh inning twice against the
Sunday night it was all happening again, yet when folks look back at his completed work — seven innings, two hits, six strikeouts, zero runs — they will most celebrate that seventh inning.
"Really just kind of couldn't look up for a minute for air," said Kershaw.
Well, the rest of us looked up, and here's what we saw.
With the Dodgers leading 1-0 on
Goodness. Another bit of seventh-inning ridiculousness? Not this time. Kershaw took a huge breath and, two pitches later, struck out Zobrist looking on a 94-mph fastball.
"Just kind of kept going through it," said Kershaw.
Addison Russell then flied to left on the third pitch, bringing up one more hurdle, perhaps an insurmountable hurdle, the hot-hitting Javier Baez.
Sure enough, Roberts came to the mound to pull Kershaw for Jansen. And sure enough, Kershaw shooed him away.
“He said, ‘We can get this guy, I can get this guy,’” said Roberts, who will soon be named
Two pitches later, Kershaw kept his promise and got that guy, even if it was on a long fly ball that nearly reached the center field fence before being caught by Joc Pederson. The breathtaking shot left Kershaw staggered and staring, his hands on his knees, his head drooping at what he thought was certain defeat.
"I thought it was out, for sure," said Kershaw. "He hit it pretty good."
Not this night. Not this October. After Kershaw returned to the dugout, Rick Honeycutt heard him cough, at which point Kershaw explained the depths of his worry.
"I'm trying to get my throat out of my stomach," Kershaw told Honeycutt.
He can breathe much easier now and for the rest of the postseason. He has shown the world, and himself, that he can pitch big in the biggest games in October. The nagging narrative has been erased.
"It should," said Roberts. "I know he's tired of hearing about it. It's unfair. What this guy's done digging deep, I can't say enough about Clayton Kershaw."
"I just never bought the narrative," he said. "There's no one else I'd rather have on the mound than Clayton Kershaw. In a game in February, March, May, October, November, it doesn't matter the month, there's no pitcher in baseball I'd rather have on the mound."
Ironically, Kershaw's biggest setback this summer may have set him up for what is so far his greatest October. Because he missed more than two months with a back injury, he pitched only 149 innings this year after averaging 2221/3 innings in each of the previous three seasons.
He used to be visibly worn out on an October mound. Now, well, did you see where his seventh-inning strikeout of Zobrist came on that 94-mph fastball?
"Maybe in some ways that injury was a blessing in disguise," said Turner. "Obviously, the arm feels great and everything is coming out crisp. He's probably not having as much fatigue as most guys are havving."
In a cramped but content Dodgers clubhouse Sunday, Turner was informed of the statistics that the Dodgers have won every postseason game with Kershaw, and lost every postseason game without him.
"Doc!" a smiling Turner suddenly shouted, nodding toward Roberts' office. "We need Clayton to throw on Tuesday!"