It's bad enough having to drive by Dodger Stadium four times a week on my way to work.
Down Academy Road, along Stadium Way, onto the 110 South. Past Chavez Ravine, where the Dodgers have played since 1956. Who needs to be reminded, right? Certainly not many of us in LA. I mean, not only did we fold to the hated Cardinals again in excruciating season-ending ignominy, but this year we did it even a series sooner, in the "pre-lims", in the NLDS best 3 out of 5. Yep, we blew it again, 3 games to 1.
The real tragedy, the real humiliation, came in the first and last games, when the invincible, record-breaking Dodger super pitcher, the one molded in Sandy Koufax's image, but even bigger, maybe even better, when the immaculate Clayton Kershaw went down to the Cards in the 7th inning - twice - in the same 5 game series. He gave up more runs in those two cursed 7th innings, 15, than he did the entire year.
Ok, not really, but this is the man who has led the National League in ERA for the last four consecutive years. (Earned Run Average, meaning he let in the fewest runs per inning over the entire season) That has never been done before. This is the dominating, curve-ball, heat- throwing lefty who won 21 out of only 27 games this year, because he didn't play with a back injury for the first whole month of the season. Never been done before. This is the most well-paid pitcher in baseball (he was given a $215 million, 7 year, history-eclipsing contract in January, 2014), who has won the Cy Young Award (best pitcher in the league) - twice, and who is a shoo-in to win it again this year, 2014, for the third time. Along with having his name mentioned as a very likely winner of the league's MVP (Most Valuable player)... as a pitcher! (Pitchers play only every 4th game)! Almost never been done before.
But here's my quandary. Here's my question: How would you feel if you were Clayton Kershaw?
I mean, here you are, on the mound in the first game of the series. The presumptive Cy Young and MVP winner. You're breezing along. Ok, sure, you've given up two solo home runs, over the first six innings, not great, but your teammates have chased the 2nd best pitcher in the National League, Adam Wainwright, out of the game, and they've given you a 6-2 lead. You have a 1.77 ERA. That means you give up less than 2 runs over an entire 9 inning game. You've already given up 2. Your team needs you to clamp down and hold the Cardinals to less than 3 runs. In 3 innings. Probably with relief from world-class reliever, Kenley Jansen. What do you say, big boy? You know the fans have it already wrapped up. Winner Game 1 - LA Dodgers.
But something goes terribly wrong. Just like last year, in the 2013 NLCS (Championship Series), when the "unhittable" Kershaw struggled through the third inning of Game 6 with 48 total pitches and surrendered a total of seven earned runs, ten hits, and two walks in four innings of work. It was simply shocking. Impossible. A complete meltdown. Sure, Kershaw was pitching on 3 days rest, rather than his normal 4, but what the heck? He's Clayton Kershaw. The whole Dodger franchise rides on his dependable and brilliant left arm. He's the best pitcher in the universe!
But now, a year later, Game 1, 2014, on full rest, he does it again. Completely blows the 6-2 lead in the 7th inning after giving up four consecutive singles with a 6-2 lead, and once again bending to the indomitable will of Matt Carpenter, who clears the bases with a tremendous bases loaded double to give the Cardinals a 7-6 lead. It's like a slow, painful death by water torture. One mistake, one drip, one punishing hit, at a time. We all hang our heads in shame as our super hero, the invincible Kershaw, takes the long, slow walk to the dugout, his own head hanging in defeat and unforgettable disgrace.
But now it's Game 4 of the 2014 Division Series, and Kershaw has one more shot at redemption. Yeah, it's on 3 days rest again, but what do you get 215 million dollars for? To pussy foot around when the season's on the line? It's "win or go home".
Kershaw once again breezes through 6 innings. He's struck out 9, allowed one hit. The score is 2-0; we've got this game, right? But then... again... it's time for the Baseball Gods to curse LA... for our meta crime of "hubris." Two Cardinals suddenly get on base, barely, both off diving plays by over-extended Dodgers, and then out of the great book of tragedy, Kershaw is rocked by Matt Adams, a left-handed hitter, for a devastating 3 run home run over the wall in left center field. Kershaw has never before in his career, given up a homer to lefty. But today, in Busch Stadium in St. Louis, he does.
Don Mattingly, the Dodgers' manager, takes the slow walk to the mound, takes the ball from his ace, and Kershaw once again takes the painful walk of shame to the dugout. The score stays the same. The Dodgers lose 3-2. Season over.
Once again, I ask: how would you feel if you were Clayton Kershaw?
Yeah, he had no backup. The 240-million-dollar salaried Dodgers, the highest paid team in baseball, had no reliable bullpen. Mattingly had no one to replace Kershaw with before he could call in Kenley Jansen, his closer. Whose fault was that? OK, some say Ned Colletti, the old school general manager who is responsible for putting together the team. He made a lot of bad hires, putting old war horses on the bullpen staff who burned out years ago. They were useless in this year's playoffs. And yesterday, old Ned got fired, rather "moved to a senior advisory position", when Stan, Kasten, President and CEO of the Dodgers, hired 37 year old whiz kid, Andrew Friedman, to take over the sinking LA ship immediately. Poor Ned.
Nobody in LA will say it. Or write it. You can't blame the Golden Boy. The Best Pitcher in Baseball. But hey, it was Kershaw out there on the mound... twice. He had the team on his back. Riding on his golden left arm. He could have won two games this year, atoned for his meltdown in 2013. Instead, he had two more 7th inning shell shockings, and he walked off the mound with his head down.
He did the perfunctory post game interviews. He said the right things.
"They just beat me. I don't think it's any magic." He was a gracious but pained loser. The "agony of defeat" was all over our superman's face. Our hearts went out to him. For some reason we weren't mad at him. We empathized with him. We were crushed with him. A noble act for rabid and unforgiving baseball fans.
But how will Kershaw get through the winter? Me? I knew the day he lost Game 4 this year, he was doomed. How can the man face himself in the mirror? Wrestle the demons in his own mind? He lost. He's a loser. Three times in a row. He got shellacked by the Cardinals, obviously his fatal Kryptonite.
Remember when Bjorn Borg finally lost the Wimbledon Tennis Championship to John McEnroe in 1981, after winning 5 consecutive championships and 41 matches in a row? I do. Borg quit. He retired from tennis immediately after the loss, his first. He couldn't handle the defeat. I'm sure I would have done the same. Sure, "quitters never win, and winners never quit", but c'mon! How do you pick yourself off the mat, get up, and keep fighting after you're publicly humiliated?
I hope Kershaw can. Maybe he really doesn't see it that way. Maybe he has his own juju to recover. He seems like such a fine, modest, decent, hardworking man. Bad things are not supposed to happen to people like him. What kind of karma does he have? Did he commit some kind of brutal, Satanistic act in his past life? Or is it just the karma, the hubris... of the Dodgers?
Me? As I drive past Dodger Stadium a hundred times this winter season and am constantly reminded of his failures, I hope Clayton Kershaw is off somewhere in Bali or St. Kitts swimming in the azure blue seas with his seeming equally lovely wife, and I hope he is recovering, or taking a strong, brainwashing course with Tony Robbins, so that he can come back next year and win his 5th consecutive ERA award, his 4th Cy Young Award, and his 1st World Series trophy, hopefully by beating the hated Cardinals along the way.
And you? How would you feel if you were Clayton Kershaw?
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