Los Angeles – Clayton Kershaw should use his name in the same sentence as Cy Young now. After all, he’s won three Hall of Famer awards from the turn of the last century.
It may have made sense that this moment passed quietly on Wednesday afternoon, when Kershaw passed Cy Young’s bowler in the record book. His goal from Colorado Garrett Hampson to finish the fifth inning, and his day job, was the 2,804th of his major league career.
It made him one of only six shooters to reach 2,800 with a single team. And it pushed him past Young, who finished his career in 2803 with four different teams.
Sure, this baseball game deserves something, right?
“Barnesi[Austin Barnes]told me,” Kershaw quipped afterwards. “He took the ball. He said he would keep it because I don’t appreciate him enough. Maybe that’s fair.”
He’s got trophies, so I guess he doesn’t need the ball.
But those hits, eight in five very strong runs, sent another message.
A year ago, Kershaw came off the hill after the start of September, taking the ball with him and leaving us wondering not only if he’ll wear the Dodger uniform again but if his elbow will let him out on the field again, period. He wasn’t available for the 2021 season, and we’ll never know if his absence, or Max Muncie’s absence after injuring his elbow in game 162, is the difference between the NLCS’ loss to Atlanta and the trip back to the World Championship.
There was that. And there was uncertainty during the shutdown and extended a few days later before Kershaw, the free agent, returned to the only organization he had ever known with a one-year contract.
It was a season of ups and downs. They’ve been very positive from a performance standpoint, including two games when he was perfect within seven rounds, the first All-Star Game to start on his hill, passing Don Sutton to become the Strike King in his franchise, and a 2.30 ERA. But it was negative due to two spots on the casualty list because of his back, a reminder of the death of a 34-year-old Ramy who has been doing so for 15 years.
He doesn’t take these opportunities for granted, and neither of us should. And when the Dodgers start a top-five NL streak next week at The Ravine against the New York Mets or Padres, Kershaw will start either Game 1 or Game 2.
Manager Dave Roberts explained the matter before Game 162 on Wednesday, A 6-1 victory over Colorado was the Dodgers’ 111th winthat the decision on the start of Game 1 will depend on “who we feel is best to return to regular rest in (potentially) Game 5.”
Kershaw passed five rounds on Wednesday – allowing only a home run to Ezequiel Tovar, where he scored eight, walked one and did so on 72 pitches. Roberts said after the game that this was less important than what Kershaw would report to the coaching staff on Thursday and Friday.
Being here, preparing for beyond his eleventh season, shouldn’t be taken for granted. When he left his debut on August 4 in San Francisco with what could be a repeat of his back issues, there were certainly no guarantees.
“I think the comeback has been huge,” Kershaw said on Wednesday. “I’m grateful that when my back kind of gave up in San Fran it wasn’t too serious. Just needed two weeks to reset. Then the timing, I was grateful for that more than anything.”
He was out for just under a month, back on the hill on September 1, and his seven starts September/October were 5-0 with 1.40 ERA, 49 strikes in 45 runs and 0.844 WHIP. His seasonal numbers: 12-3, 2.28, 23 walks, 137 strikes in 126-1/3 runs and 0.942 WHIP.
You must play. Kershaw may not be classic, but Kershaw can be counted on.
“I felt a little better today than I did at the last start,” he said. “I felt the spin, the slide/curve, was a little better, a little sharper today, which is good. So I’m glad I got this last start.
“And overall, you know, I’m thankful for another season. … I haven’t made it through (Salma) this year. But I’m healthy at the right time this year, which is huge for me.”
This time of year was what he had in mind when he made the decision to return to L.A. for another season, even with the temptation to come close to his home with the Texas Rangers. October is important.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “Think back in March, think about your life and different choices and things like that. That’s what I want to do. It doesn’t mean it’s going to come easy. It’s obviously going to be a grueling process. It’s going to be challenging. But that’s why I’m here. That’s it. It’s what I want and I’m looking forward to next month.”
There were unknowns. There was no certainty about his elbow’s reaction, especially since he couldn’t do much until March.
But he’s here. The Octobers have been tough with him in the past, but after one particular season, in 2020, he’s eliminated a lot of anxiety. Last October was cruel in a different way, because he could not participate.
Maybe he cherishes her now a little more than he did earlier in his career?
“It’s all a little better in perspective when it’s your choice to come back and stay here,” he said. “And that’s where I wanted to be, what I wanted to do.
“I definitely think that maybe (there is) a slightly different perspective, but it doesn’t change the overall goal.”
Clearly, he’s still 11 wins away.