Clayton Kershaw’s epic playoff redemption is nearly complete


ARLINGTON, Texas — Boos, glorious boos. Didn’t you miss them?

Boos rained upon Globe Life Field at about 9:30 Sunday night thanks to many of the 11,000-plus people on site — not a cardboard cutout to be seen, not a piped-in cheer to be heard — expressing their unhappiness over Clayton Kershaw getting a sudden hook from World Series Game 5.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts surely felt the anger at his back as he went to retrieve the icon with two outs in the sixth inning, and then he faced the vitriol head-on as he returned to the dugout.

Put aside the strategy debate over whether that marked the right time for Kershaw to go (spoiler alert: It worked out just fine, the Dodgers defeating the Rays by a 4-2 score). Focus on this: Dodgers fans, fully aware of Kershaw’s spotty postseason history, wanted him to keep pitching in the team’s most important contest of the year.

Because Kershaw did his job this time, this Fall Classic. Now, needing to win one more, can his teammates do their job to land him his long-desired ring?

“Any time you can have success in the postseason, it just means so much. It’s what you work for, what you play for: This month,” Kershaw said afterward. “I know what the other end of that feels like. I’ll take it when I can get it.”

Clayton Kershaw
Clayton KershawGetty Images

Up 3-2 in games, the Dodgers can wrap things up and capture their first title since 1988 with a victory in Game 6 here on Tuesday night. Such a triumph would give Los Angeles two major professional champions in less than a month’s time, joining the great LeBron James’ Lakers. It would take plenty of heat off Roberts, who has withstood five straight October beatings of second-guesses galore. It would turn up the heat on the Yankees, who no longer could lay out the Dodgers as Exhibit A of how spending billions upon billions doesn’t guarantee you a parade.

For Kershaw? The team coronation would represent a personal pardon of sorts. A recognition that, while his October woes almost always contributed to the disappointing club results (as he obliquely acknowledged), the Dodgers wouldn’t have qualified for all of those postseasons without his brilliant regular seasons. And they reached the finish line with his full support.

“There’s a tough narrative on him,” Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen, who saved the game in the wake of usual closer Kenley Jansen’s Game 4 malfunction, said of Kershaw. “He’s a phenomenal competitor on the greatest stage. I think a lot of credit goes to what he’s been able to do this World Series.”

By allowing just two runs and five hits and two walks, striking out six — which gave him a postseason record 207 Ks, two ahead of Justin Verlander — Kershaw did his part on Sunday, if not as dominantly as he had in Game 1; his slider and curveball weren’t as effective this time, he said, and he escaped a first-and-third, no-out jam in the fourth in part by stopping Tampa Bay’s Manuel Margot from stealing home. For this Series, he owns a pair of wins and a 2.31 ERA. For this postseason, he is at 4-1 and 2.93.

For his career in the playoffs? 13-12, 4.19, quite a jump from his regular-season 2.43.

There’s no getting around it. Kershaw is competing in his 10th postseason, a Jeter-esque pace at age 32. In 2008, he made a couple of relief cameos as Joe Torre’s group fell short to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. In each of his subsequent postseasons, first 2009 and then 2013-19, Kershaw either picked up a loss or soundly contributed to one in the round that ousted the Dodgers.

While the possibility certainly exists that Kershaw would be asked to come out of the bullpen to get a few outs, the left-hander has done more than his share of the heavy lifting for a long time now, and Dodgers fans know that. Between the dual boo showers for Roberts, Kershaw exited to a standing ovation.

“It feels pretty good,” Kershaw said.

He can feel his best ever without throwing so much as one more pitch.

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