He was uncertain whether the value of pitchers were accurately reflected by their win-loss record. He wasn’t about earned-run average or strikeouts either.
When Clayton Kershaw was at the height of his powers, the statistical category he cherished most was innings pitched.
Kershaw was less concerned about how glamorous he appeared than how dependable he was to his teammates.
His innings count was a measure of that.
Kershaw will take the mound for the Dodgers on Sunday night in Game 5 of the World Series.
The game was expected to be a coronation, with Kershaw assigned to receive the crown.
A phenomenal ninth-inning meltdown changed the plans. Instead of moving to within a victory of their first championship in 32 years, the Dodgers lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7. A series that was basically over was suddenly tied at 2-2.
As the player who most personified the team’s succession of postseason failures, Kershaw deserved to start the potential clincher.
But this will be equally appropriate.
He will do something less glorious, but more important.
The pitcher who placed a greater emphasis on innings pitched than strikeouts will be looking not to close out the World Series, but to regain control of it.
Kershaw has experienced sufficient heartbreak in October to know he couldn’t count on anything. Speaking before Game 4, he noted the Dodgers had to win their third game of this World Series before they could win their fourth.
“When you’ve been working so long and so hard for one goal and it’s getting closer and closer with each win, it’s hard not to think about the end game and what that might be like,” Kershaw said. “But you just have to [stay in the moment]. It’s too hard to think in the future when you have a great team that you’re playing against.”
Kershaw will be taking on a team he dominated in a Game 1 landslide when he limited the Rays to a solitary run over six innings.
His slider was the key that night against the all-or-nothing Rays lineup, accounting for 35 of his 78 pitches and producing 11 swings and misses.
But in this modern version of baseball, the second time facing an opponent is never as easy as the first. The Rays now have an idea of how he will attack them. They know how his slider breaks and how his curveball tumbles.
“Might have to change a few things up,” Kershaw said. “But for the most part just continue to pitch the way that you pitch.”
Manager Dave Roberts added: “That’s the cat-and-mouse … who is going to change, who is going to keep doing what they did? That’s the fun part, the game inside the game. That will be good to see.”
Three of the last four times Kershaw has pitched multiple times in the same series, it hasn’t gone well. There were the two home runs he allowed in relief against the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of last year’s National League Division Series. There was his seven-inning, four-run start in Game 5 of the 2018 World Series, when the Boston Red Sox clinched the title at Dodger Stadium.
And there was the infamous fifth game of the 2017 World Series, when Kershaw blew leads of four and three runs against an Astros team that was later found to have been stealing signs at home games during that season.
The enduring images of Kershaw in the postseason are of him bent over with his hands on his knees.
This game won’t necessarily provide him with an opportunity to change that. What will be remembered are the celebrations or the blank stares after the final out of this World Series is recorded, depending on which side the Dodgers end up.
What Kershaw does on Sunday will shape those images. He might not ever enjoy his Orel Hershiser moment, in which a teammate lifts him in the air in the moment of triumph, but that doesn’t make this any less important.
Kershaw knows that. The Dodgers know that.
Over his 13 seasons with the Dodgers, his achievements are almost unmatched in modern baseball.
A most valuable player award. Three Cy Young Awards.
His regular-season records are a result of his consistency.
Seizing a moment in October has proven more difficult, however.
Kershaw will not only have to do that, he will have to do that against the backdrop of a devastating Game 4 loss. He will not only have to pitch well, he will have to do so while being his team’s emotional anchor.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Never have the Dodgers been as reliant on him as they will be on Sunday.
” data-reactid=”56″>Never have the Dodgers been as reliant on him as they will be on Sunday.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.” data-reactid=”57″>This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.