For Kershaw, inopportune time for rare slipup
Ace takes responsibility for tumultuous inning that led to Dodgers' elimination
ST. LOUIS -- Clayton Kershaw, meet John Tudor.
And if you need to find someone who can discuss what it feels like to stand out on the mound and just keep throwing pitches, trying and trying to get to the dugout, you can ask someone for Casey Coleman's number.
Mike Quade, then the Cubs' manager, allowed the slightly built Coleman to throw 51 pitches in the third inning on April 22, 2011, against the Dodgers. Kershaw, who is about to win his second NL Cy Young Award, needed a staggering 48 to get three outs in the third inning on Friday night at Busch Stadium.
That was the last thing anyone expected to see. But baseball sometimes takes its biggest bites out of great players, and that was the case with Kershaw.
His completely out-of-character performance came in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, after the St. Louis Cardinals had beaten him, 1-0, in Game 2 of the series on the strength of an unearned run. There were no such subtleties this time around, with the 9-0 final score evoking memories of the Royals pounding Tudor and Joaquin Andujar (out of the bullpen) en route to an 11-0 win in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series.
Kershaw pitched into the fifth inning even though he got to the doorstep of a 48-pitch inning in that ugly, 10-batter third, when Matt Carpenter won a great battle with a single on the 11th pitch of the sequence, after eight foul balls. Was it too much to expect more innings from Kershaw?
"No, not Clayton,'' catcher A.J. Ellis said. "This guy's different, different than everybody else. He's got the ability to compete, turn it up. We needed him to eat that inning, keep us 4-0 and give us a chance, but they rallied again, put some good swings on him and were able to score some more runs [in the fifth].''
Say this for Kershaw: Unlike Tudor, who had snapped at reporters before the game and cut his hand hitting a dugout fan after being pulled by Whitey Herzog in the third inning, the 25-year-old lefty carried himself in a manner worthy of the parallels between him and Sandy Koufax.
"Just didn't pitch good, man,'' Kershaw said, standing in front of his locker. "I don't have an answer. It just wasn't good enough.''
Kershaw was charged with seven earned runs on 10 hits, one walk (intentional) and two wild pitches. He hadn't allowed that many runs in the month of August, but nevertheless he took questions until reporters had no more to ask him. He did what an ace is supposed to do, accepting full responsibility for the Dodgers falling short of reaching the World Series.
Tough time to struggle
|Clayton Kershaw||Dodgers||Cardinals||NLCS 6||10/18/2013||4||7|
|David Wells||Yankees||Angels||ALDS 4||10/5/2002||4 2/3||8|
|Charles Nagy||Indians||Red Sox||ALDS 5||10/11/1999||3||7|
|Mordecai Brown||Cubs||White Sox||WS 6||10/14/1906||1 2/3||7|
A friendly television reporter said that the bad ending didn't ruin a season in which he was 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, and he quickly disagreed.
"Yeah, it kind of does,'' Kershaw said. "What does it really matter? Make the playoffs or come in last place -- if you don't win the World Series, it doesn't really matter.''
The one time Kershaw showed emotion on the mound was when umpire Greg Gibson did not give him the call on a borderline 3-2 pitch to Matt Adams during the third inning. Cameras caught him yelling at Gibson from the mound, and given the dire straits he was in, who would blame him?
Had Gibson felt Kershaw's 3-2 fastball had caught the outside corner, Kershaw would have escaped the third down only 2-0, having thrown 37 pitches. But he didn't get the call, and Shane Robinson, getting his first start in the playoffs, followed with a two-run single that just got past Mark Ellis. The Dodgers were in a 4-0 hole that turned to 9-0 when the Cardinals pounded Kershaw and relievers Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell in the fifth inning.
"We just couldn't get out of it,'' Ellis said. "It was really hard to find that put-away pitch to end that inning. We struck out Holliday, got Molina two strikes down, just couldn't finish they inning. They did a good job fouling off pitches, fighting. It's the mark of a great team over there. They never give up a rally. It's why they are who they are.''
Ellis alluded to some pitches that "could have been called strikes and got us out of the inning earlier,'' but Kershaw did not want to revisit the call on that 3-2 pitch.
"There's no point talking about it now,'' Kershaw said. "It's over with.''
Kershaw said he felt badly for his teammates, and didn't exclude rookie Yasiel Puig, who twice made ill-advised throws to the plate in the third inning, both times letting runners advance. Ellis, however, took the right fielder to task for not helping his pitcher.
"Passion is great, but there are times when restraint is needed,'' Ellis said. "Keeping double plays in order is really important in this game. Double plays are huge in the game of baseball. When runners are out there in scoring position, your margin of error really shrinks.''
But Kershaw seemed to mean it when he said the loss was on him.
"Disappointed,'' Kershaw said. "When you know guys have worked so hard to get here, I wanted to win it for them. It's a great group of guys. I've never had more fun playing baseball. The group of guys that we have in here is so special that I wanted to be part of the solution. I wanted to get guys there, especially guys who have never been there -- like Michael Young, somebody like that who has played his whole career without winning a World Series. That's the toughest pill to swallow."
How long does a disappointment like this hurt?
"I'll let you know,'' Kershaw said.
It won't be any consolation, but this guy will never have another night like this on a baseball field, not in April, not in September after his team has been eliminated. Forty-eight pitches to get three outs?
That's almost never happens to below-average pitchers. It's safe to say that will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the 2013 version of Koufax.
Fact sometimes is stranger than fiction.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.