Kershaw yanked after yielding six runs in the first for the Dodgers

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In Los Angeles, Clayton Kershaw stood with a heavy heart, hands resting on his knees, head down, as a painfully familiar scene played out before him. It was a moment that had become all too frequent in this place, at this time of the year.

The catalyst for this distressing turn of events was Gabriel Moreno’s three-run home run, which handed the Arizona Diamondbacks a commanding five-run advantage before Kershaw could even record his first out in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Saturday night.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, faced with uncertainty in their starting rotation as October arrived, had never depended on Kershaw more. Paradoxically, they had also never been more uncertain about what he could deliver. Their opening game of the postseason set a disheartening tone: Kershaw allowed six runs, managed to register just one out, and arguably experienced one of the most forgettable postseason starts in the history of baseball.

Kershaw succinctly described it as “disappointing” and “embarrassing.” He conveyed a profound sense of disappointment, not only to his teammates but to the entire organization, which had placed high hopes on him to excel in Game 1. It was a disheartening start to the playoffs. Despite the dismal beginning, he acknowledged that there was still an opportunity to turn things around, but the initial performance fell far short of his expectations.

In the final two months of the regular season, Kershaw valiantly battled through a persistent left shoulder issue. While his fastball may have lost some velocity, he maintained an impressive 2.23 ERA over an eight-start stretch. To preserve his arm for crucial postseason games, he was limited to shorter outings, typically pitching around five innings.

Game 1 began with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts emphasizing that Kershaw was in the best physical shape he had been in for the past couple of months. However, it concluded in disappointment as Kershaw became the first postseason pitcher in MLB history to surrender five hits and five runs without recording an out.

This marked a stark departure from his usual performance, as he failed to complete the first inning for the first time in his 454-game career. Kershaw found himself in rare company, joining only three others who had suffered such an unfortunate postseason fate, allowing six or more runs while recording one out or less in postseason history.

Dodgers’ catcher Will Smith noted that Kershaw’s pitches appeared to be consistent with his typical performance throughout the year. Manager Roberts also confirmed that there were no physical concerns, which Kershaw himself stressed.

When asked about his physical condition and his ability to contribute to the team going forward, Kershaw responded, “I’m feeling good. I’m feeling fine. Tonight, I simply didn’t execute enough quality pitches. There are no health-related issues here; it was just an off night in terms of pitching.”

Kershaw’s second pitch, a 73-mph curveball that was slightly low, was hit with incredible force at 116 mph to center field. It bounced off the heel of James Outman’s glove, resulting in a double that could have been considered an error. Outman, a rookie, admitted that the ball caught him off guard, and he also acknowledged that nerves played a role.

Subsequently, Corbin Carroll and Tommy Pham hit consecutive singles, Christian Walker added a double, and then Moreno, whose status was uncertain due to a head injury from a backswing during Arizona’s previous game on Wednesday, launched a 419-foot home run to left-center field. This left the Dodger Stadium crowd, which was still arriving, in stunned silence.

Three batters later, Kershaw exited the game, making way for rookie right-hander Emmet Sheehan. Roberts noted that Kershaw typically excels at minimizing damage, but regrettably, that wasn’t the case on this occasion.

This performance elevated Kershaw’s postseason ERA from 4.22 to 4.49 over 194⅓ innings. This figure stands two runs higher than his impressive regular-season ERA of 2.48 and is the highest among the 31 pitchers in major league history with more than 100 innings in the playoffs.

Kershaw’s postseason track record has been affected by various factors, including appearances on short rest, relief roles, or extended outings. This time, his ERA saw a significant increase when he is not in optimal health due to his age (35 years old), extensive innings pitched, and a history of injuries. Dodgers’ first baseman Freddie Freeman expressed confidence in Kershaw’s abilities, emphasizing their expectation of a strong performance in his next outing.

As per Roberts, Kershaw is scheduled to start Game 4 at Chase Field in Phoenix on Thursday, provided the Dodgers don’t get swept in the series. Kershaw remains the sole survivor from the Dodgers’ initial rotation, with other pitchers facing challenges such as injuries, administrative leave, and trades.

The Dodgers are relying on a combination of rookies, relievers, and unconventional strategies in their postseason pitching plan. Nevertheless, they are hopeful that Kershaw can regain his form and make a significant contribution in Game 4.

Kershaw himself expressed confidence, saying, “I’ll be prepared. Yes, I’ll be ready.”


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