The Los Angeles Dodgers had positioned themselves best as possible for the nightmare scenario. In the event their National League Division Series matchup with the Washington Nationals went to a decisive Game 5, Walker Buehler was in line to start on regular rest.
And with Clayton Kershaw taking the mound in Game 2, he was poised to be available out of the bullpen if the series did not end in a sweep. Kershaw was prepared to pitch in relief in Game 4 but a scenario never presented itself.
Thus, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts deemed the left-hander as being at the forefront of having “all hands on deck” for winner-take-all Game 5. Specifically, Kershaw was viewed as a safety net to provide length in relief of Buehler.
The young right-hander was pushed into the seventh inning, ultimately exiting with two outs and runners on first and second base. In came Kershaw, who struck out Adam Eaton on three pitches.
But with the Dodgers six outs away from a fourth consecutive trip to the NL Championship Series, Kershaw surrendered back-to-back home runs on consecutive pitches to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto.
That pulled the Nationals even and ultimately forced the game into extra innings. Kershaw had long been chased from the game when Joe Kelly surrendered a game-winning grand slam to Howie Kendrick in the 10th. Yet, the Dodgers’ longtime ace bore the brunt of the blame for their loss.
“Letting down the guys in the clubhouse, that’s the hardest part every year,” Kershaw said. “It’s a terrible feeling. I had one job to do: get three outs. I got one out, I didn’t get the other two, they went over the fence and cost us the game. No excuses. Just didn’t make pitches.”
The stumble was another black mark on Kershaw’s postseason career. His 13 quality starts in October are well overshadowed by struggles against the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Boston Red Sox and now Nationals.
“I’m not going to hang my head,” Kershaw said. “I’m going to be here. I’m going to continue to try to fight, continue to try to compete. I’m not going to shy away from it. Everything people say is true right now about the postseason. I understand that. Nothing I can do about it right now. It’s a terrible feeling. It really is.”
Kershaw now sports a 4.43 postseason ERA in 158.1 innings pitched across 32 games (25 starts).