As Dave Roberts spoke with reporters Wednesday afternoon, the Dodgers had played 15 games this season. They had 147 to play, and yet the Dodgers manager actually used the words "must win."
In just about any other context, you would suspect the Dodgers had gone into panic mode.
But Wednesday was not just any other day. It was Kershaw Day, the closest thing the Dodgers have to guaranteed win night.
And, as if to stoke the competitive fire of the most competitive pitcher in the game, the Colorado Rockies got Clayton Kershaw good and angry before the game. He was atop the mound, ready to start the first inning, and he could not.
Tyler Anderson, the Rockies' pitcher, was walking along the first-base line, from the visitors' bullpen beyond right field, toward the Colorado dugout. Kershaw had to wait, breathing fire all the time.
"That was one of the more disrespectful things I've been a part of in the game," Kershaw said. "I really didn't appreciate that. The game starts at 7:10. It's started at 7:10 here for a long time."
When the game ended, Kershaw had survived a shaky start — at least by his extraordinary standards — to deliver a 4-2 victory.
In his last 11 home starts, Kershaw is 10-0 with a 0.65 earned-run average, six walks and 96 strikeouts.
"That's the beauty of pitching in L.A., right?" Kershaw said. "It's perfect weather every time, perfect mound, just kind of a perfect storm. You would hope you do pitch well at your home park. It just so happens that mine is probably the best place to pitch in baseball."
The latest lineup configuration against left-handers worked well enough. Scott Van Slyke hit a home run, leadoff batter Enrique Hernandez doubled and tripled, and infielder Chris Taylor —recalled from triple-A Oklahoma City earlier in the day — doubled twice.
In his seven innings Wednesday, Kershaw gave up two runs, walking one and striking out 10. The Dodgers needed three relievers for the eighth inning —Luis Avilan, Sergio Romo and Kenley Jansen — with Jansen finishing the game. He earned his second consecutive four-out save.
The Dodgers have a .500 record, broken down thusly: 3-1 when Kershaw starts, 5-7 when he does not. Happy Kershaw Day.
"There's more focus, not to say that should be right or wrong," Roberts said. "There's more intensity.
"April 19th, you don't want to say you're in a must-win mode, but I do believe, when your ace takes the mound it's a must-win game."
Kershaw has worked at least seven innings in three of his four starts. No other Dodgers starter has worked seven innings even once.
Kershaw, so meticulous in his routine, was forced to wait to throw his first pitches. He denied the wait had anything to do with the results that followed, but he walked the first batter, Charlie Blackmon — just the second walk Kershaw has issued this season.
DJ LeMahieu followed with a single, and so did Nolan Arenado, and the Rockies had the bases loaded with none out.
Kershaw then reverted to his usual form. He struck out two of the next three batters, with a sacrifice fly in between. The Rockies had a run, but they would not get another hit until the fifth inning.
Anderson said that he had simply thrown a couple of extra warmup pitches before the game, and that he and his catcher intended no disrespect toward Kershaw as they walked in from the bullpen.
"We were in foul territory," Anderson said. "I was surprised that they wouldn't let him pitch."
"Hopefully, Anderson learns from it," Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "I am sure he wouldn't want anybody else to do that to him."