Classy Clayton shows poise in collapse
Kershaw's solid pitching will get lost in the Dodgers' tough loss to the Yankees
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw should have been slamming his helmet against the wall or breaking a bat in disgust or cursing out everyone in sight. Yet there he stood, in the hallway leading to the Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse, dressed in a blue sweater, black slacks and dress shoes.
As he put his backpack over his shoulders, reporters filed into Joe Torre's office to ask the Dodgers' manager how his team squandered a 6-2 lead in the ninth inning to the New York Yankees, who went on to win 8-6 in 10 innings.
Kershaw wanted to leave, but he stood there. No more than 50 yards from the double-door exits, he stood and waited with his backpack on until reporters were done talking to Torre, so Kershaw could answer questions about another solid start wasted by the Dodgers, who have seemingly made it their job to find new ways to lose to American League opponents this season.
On Sunday, Kershaw allowed four hits and two runs while striking out five through seven innings, and he did not walk a batter for the first time in his career. His performance, however, will largely get lost on a night when Jonathan Broxton and the bullpen let him and the team down. After Broxton entered the game in the ninth inning with the Dodgers holding a four-run lead, he proceeded to give up four runs during a 48-pitch inning which seemed like it would never end. George Sherrill then allowed a two-run homer by Robinson Cano in the 10th, which gave the Yankees the improbable comeback win.
While Kershaw was denied his eighth win of the season, no one can deny the poise and control he demonstrated on the mound and in the clubhouse after the game.
"It's tough to watch at times, but I have confidence in Brox every time he's out there," Kershaw said. "Even when he was struggling, I felt that he was going to get out of the inning. It was just one of those nights when everybody had a bad night, and when you're a closer it gets highlighted even more."
There were plenty of Dodgers who had bad nights in a game which saw the team once again lose its composure, as Russell Martin and Garret Anderson were tossed during the Dodgers' unraveling. Kershaw, however, wasn't one of them.
Every now and then when Kershaw stands on the mound, he gives you a glimpse into his future and presumably the future of the Dodgers, as well.
Of course, that is if the Yankees don't swoop in and sign him to an astronomical contract as soon as he reaches his prime, as they've done with so many other players in the past.
Kershaw is the type of pitcher the Yankees would hand a blank check to today, if they could, and on Sunday he showed them firsthand why he's one of the best young pitchers in baseball and will no doubt have the word "young" removed from that description sooner rather than later.
In front of a crowd filled with more celebrities than a Lakers playoff game and against a lineup with the most accomplished (and hyped) hitters in baseball, Kershaw pitched one of the best games of his young career. He wasn't awestruck by the Yankees or the thousands of flashing lights every time Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira came to the plate. He simply threw strike after strike after strike, 63 overall in 101 pitches.
Not only was Kershaw a calming presence on the mound, but he also helped his own cause when he came to the plate. Kershaw sacrificed three times against the Yankees, which is the most sacrifice bunts for any major league player this season and the most for a Dodger since Kershaw had three sacrifices on Sept. 8, 2008, against the San Diego Padres.
"There's a lot of hype involved when you're playing the Yankees and I'm sure they're used to it, but I tried to come into this like it was another game for me," Kershaw said. "They have a good lineup, don't get me wrong, but I just attacked them and didn't let anything else get to me."
Kershaw's jersey number (22) offers a constant reminder of how young he is, even if his mesmerizing curveball and blistering fastball leave you asking (sometimes demanding) far more than anyone realistically should of a pitcher his age.
It's understandable for Dodgers fans to expect Kershaw to be their ace now as opposed to later. It's reasonable to look to him as a savior even if he's still a student. It's logical to compare him to Sandy Koufax, as Torre did earlier this year, when thinking back to the last great Dodgers lefty with a blinding fastball and unhittable curveball.
Kershaw constantly gives you reason to shower him with such praise even though he rolls his eyes and shakes his head when he hears it. His turning point this season came May 4, when he retired only four of the 13 batters he faced against the Milwaukee Brewers, lasted just 1 1/3 innings and was charged with seven runs during a nine-run second inning. It was the shortest outing of his career and may have served as a wake-up call, as well.
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In his next game, five days later, he was matched up against the Colorado Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a 6-0 record and a major league-leading 0.83 ERA. Kershaw responded with eight innings of two-hit ball in leading the Dodgers to a 2-0 victory.
Despite being deprived of the win on Sunday, his gem against the Yankees was perhaps his best performance since that game.
"What he's done to himself right now is great," Torre said. "He's been very good pitch count-wise, and that's been a change from earlier in the season. He's growing up before our eyes."
The knock against Kershaw for much of his career has been that he wastes too many pitches and walks too many batters. It seemed like an old concern as he meticulously navigated his way through seven innings while carving up the Yankees' lineup.
"He takes something from every start he makes," Torre said. "He's gradually gotten to the point where you expect something good out of him, and tonight was a good test for him going up against Andy Pettitte."
As he left Dodger Stadium, Kershaw, the youngest player on the team, seemed to be the most composed player on an agitated roster which has now lost 11 of the past 15 games.
"Some of the frustration was being let out at the wrong direction," he said. "It just shows the type of emotion this team has and how badly a lot of these guys have to win. You can't take that away from them, but we have to come to the park tomorrow and get after it. We'll be fine."