This series has been one of incredibly high highs and incredibly low lows — at least for the Dodgers and their fans.
Game 5 was outright cruel. It wasn’t supposed to go that way. The Dodgers handed the ball to Clayton Kershaw on full rest and staked him to a 4-0 lead after three innings. This was supposed to in the bag. Then, everything fell apart.
Even though the Dodgers took a 7-4 lead on Cody Bellinger‘s home run in the top of the fifth inning, when Kershaw came out and walked George Springer in the bottom of the fifth, it felt perilous. The results beared that out.
There’s nothing I’m going to say here that’s going to make anyone feel any better. This was an outright disaster, and there’s no defending any of what happened last night. They lost for one reason: Clayton Kershaw.
It’s hard for me to write those words, but there is no other explanation. Yes, the strike zone was appalling, but the Dodgers didn’t lose because of that. Yes, the slick and/or juiced baseballs may have played a role, but the Dodgers didn’t lose because of that. Yes, the bullpen gave up seven runs, but the Dodgers didn’t lose because of that. They lost because their ace — their leader — faltered at the worst possible time. After a great Game 1 performance, I don’t think even the most optimistic Astros’ fan was expecting what happened last night.
Kershaw might very well be pitching through pain in his back that we as fans know nothing about, at least when it comes to competing at the highest level of baseball. But to pin the hopes of your season on your ace is exactly where the Dodgers wanted to be, and all they needed was an outing that was not a disaster, but he couldn’t deliver.
I’m stopping short of saying he choked because I don’t believe that to be true (and I might be trying to convince myself of that). There are a lot of factors that go into using that term (for me), and I don’t think it’s fair to label Kershaw as a choker. He screwed up, there’s no doubt, but I don’t think it’s because he was afraid of the moment or didn’t want to be out there. While he wasn’t particularly sharp in his first three innings, he had faced the minimum and there was no reason to expect he’d fail to get out of the fifth inning at that point. Sometimes, you just have to accept the other team was better, more resilient and had a better approach. That sounds weird to say after the Dodgers knocked Dallas Keuchel out before the fourth inning ended, but the Astros made the necessary adjustments after the first time they turned their lineup over and Kershaw didn’t.
Kershaw abandoned his curveball, he leaned too heavily on his slider, and his fastball command wavered after the third inning. All of that combined for a spectacle the baseball watching world has likely never witnessed. That game, from the perspective of everyone but Dodger fans, was insane. I doubt we see a game like that anytime in the near or distant future.
Kershaw had effectively killed and buried the postseason narrative. He has done this, seemingly, multiple times throughout his career — Game 4 of the 2015 NLDS, Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS, Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS, Game 1 of the World Series just six says ago. Never has a narrative been resurrected so many times. Never has it been brought back from the dead, each time seemingly crueler than the last. Never has it hurt as much as it does right now, and I can’t imagine what Kershaw is feeling in this moment.
So, the only way the Dodgers are going to win the World Series this year is to win the last two games against an historically great offensive team that has more than found its offensive stroke. The Dodgers are putting their season in Rich Hill‘s hands and no one else’s. The bullpen is depleted; running on fumes. Last night, Brandon Morrow had the least impressive 96-97 MPH fastball you’ll ever see. Kenley Jansen, despite wanting the ball, looked shot after he struck out Marwin Gonzalez in the 10th inning. Kenta Maeda has been nails, but even he wasn’t as effective on Sunday after having to throw 42 pitches on Friday night because Yu Darvish struggled so mightily.
The season rests in Hill’s hands. Oh, and he’s facing Justin Verlander, who is on full rest and will throw about 250 pitches if need be. If the Dodgers end up winning this thing, they’ll have definitely earned it. And if they do, Kershaw should get another shot redemption — his 10th shot, that is — coming out of the bullpen.
The Dodgers lost Game 2 in unbelievable fashion. They lost Game 3 in frustrating fashion. They lost Game 5 in manic fashion. I don’t think they or we can take another gut punch, which is what this series has been.
There is no other option. The Dodgers must win. If not, it’ll be another season that ends in disappointment, even if this is the longest they’ve lasted in almost 30 years. Kershaw couldn’t get the job done when the Dodgers needed him most. Here’s hoping Hill can and here’s hoping Kershaw gets one more chance to redeem himself, even if he may not deserve it.