This was his moment, his chance to reclaim championship glory for his franchise, his opportunity to rewrite his postseason legacy.
What Clayton Kershaw found instead Sunday night was more of the same. More heartache. More frustration. More shock.
In the most important start of his career, Kershaw failed to deliver. In the franchise’s most crucial game in nearly three decades, he unraveled.
The Dodgers provided Kershaw with a four-run advantage. He couldn’t protect it. They broke the stalemate by scoring another three runs for him. He couldn’t preserve that lead, either.
“It’s a tough one, no doubt about it,” said Kershaw, who was visibly and audibly downcast.
Kershaw was charged with six runs in 42/3 innings and the Dodgers went on to lose to the Houston Astros in 10 innings 13-12. Fair or not, if the Dodgers fail to reverse their three-games-to-two deficit this World Series, his disastrous start in Game 5 could be what forever defines him.
Kershaw has occupied a curious middle ground in the city’s sporting landscape, admiration for his regular-season achievements, professionalism and philanthropy tempered by disappointment over his failures to deliver a championship.
There really were no excuses this time. The depth of the rotation made it unnecessary for him to pitch on short rest this postseason. The bullpen was performing well. The potency of the offense provided him with run support.
And the Dodgers won each of his first four starts in these playoffs, with Kershaw posting a 3-0 record and 2.96 earned-run average in those games. His best game, his October magnum opus, came on the sport’s greatest stage. Kershaw was magnificent in Game 1 of this World Series, limiting the Astros to a run and three hits in a 3-1 triumph.
And now here he was, back for Game 5, with the series tied, two games to two.
He was pitching for control of this World Series. A victory here and the Dodgers would return home ahead, three games to two, only one win removed from the franchise’s first championship in 29 seasons.
Every afternoon weight-lifting session, every wind sprint in the outfield, every back-strengthening exercised was performed with this game, with this moment, in mind.
Kershaw looked ready for the moment. He was calm as he engaged reporters at a news conference Saturday. He started well Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
The Dodgers spotted him a 3-0 lead in the first inning and Kershaw responded by retiring the first six Astros he faced. Evan Gattis singled to start the bottom of the third, but Kershaw promptly forced Marwin Gonzalez to ground into a double play. Kershaw faced the minimum number of batters through three innings.
“He was rolling,” manager Dave Roberts said.
Logan Forsythe doubled and scored on a single by Austin Barnes to increase the Dodgers’ edge to 4-0 in the fourth inning.
Suddenly and inexplicably, everything changed in the bottom half of that inning.
“I just lost my command a little bit there in that fourth inning,” Kershaw said. “That’s all it took.”
He started the inning by walking George Springer, who advanced to second base on a single by Jose Altuve and plated the Astros’ first run on a double by Carlos Correa. The next batter, Yuli Gurriel, blasted a slider over the seats perched above the 19-foot wall in left field. The score was tied 4-4.
The Dodgers struck back in the fifth inning, reclaiming the lead on a three-run home run by Cody Bellinger.
“Our offense was amazing tonight, battled all the way through,” Kershaw said. “I can’t say enough about our team, really, what they were able to accomplish with what I gave them.”
Kershaw retired the first two batters of the fifth inning, only to issue consecutive walks to Springer and Alex Bregman.
Pitchers on both teams have blamed their command problems on the baseballs used in this series, which feel slicker than usual. Kershaw didn’t use that an excuse. “I don’t really pay attention to it,” he said. “I just assume both sides are dealing with it, so I’m not going to worry about it.”
Whatever was happening, Roberts wouldn’t let Kershaw go any further. With two on and two outs in the fifth inning, Kershaw’s night was over.
The baseball removed from his hand by Roberts, Kershaw scaled down the mound, stroked his chin and looked up toward the ceiling of the indoor stadium. He watched in disbelief from the bench as his replacement, the previously unscored-upon Kenta Maeda, served up a three-run blast to Altuve.
The score was tied again. Kershaw was living another nightmare — only this one was later than the previous moments of October horror, just two days before Halloween.
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