If this turns out to be the final time Kershaw throws a pitch in a Dodgers uniform, the baseball gods sure have a cruel sense of humor.
Kershaw’s performance was ugly, and it was brutally quick, resulting in a humiliating 11-2 defeat for the Dodgers against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 of their best-of-five Division Series in front of a stunned crowd of 51,653.
Kershaw has had plenty of horrific moments in his postseason career, ghosts that have haunted him in winters that came far too early, but he’s never had a game as hideous as this one. He gave up six runs and retired just one batter.
It was easily the worst game of his 16-year Hall of Fame career — in the regular season or postseason.
“It was disappointing, embarrassing,’’ Kershaw said. “I think you just feel like you let everybody down. The whole organization looks to you to pitch well in Game 1, and, yeah, it’s just embarrassing really.
“It’s a tough way to start the postseason.’’
Kershaw’s night really was over before much of the sellout crowd even got into their seats.
He threw 35 pitches, facing just eight batters and retiring only one. He’d given up six hits and six runs when he was mercifully yanked out of the game.
He became only the third pitcher in playoff history to permit at least six runs while getting no more than one out.
Kershaw was asked several times whether he felt fine physically, whether his shoulder that sidelined him for six weeks was bothering him again, or whether his body simply was giving out.
“I feel fine, I feel fine,’’ Kershaw said. “There’s nothing health related here. Just bad pitching.
“Look, there’s no excuses. I have to be better. It’s just not acceptable.’’
The Dodgers, who won the NL West by 16 games over the Diamondbacks, now are in a fight for their lives just to get out of the division series.
They not only got ambushed by the D-backs’ offense, but got shut down by Merrill Kelly, who entered the game with an 0-11 career record and 5.49 ERA against the Dodgers, including an 0-5 record and 7.03 ERA at Dodger Stadium.
Kelly, given a 6-0 lead before he even stepped on the mound, couldn’t believe what he was watching, and absolutely cruised, yielding just three hits in 6⅓ shutout innings.
“Honestly, at that minute,’’ Kelly said, “I’m just trying to enjoy it. I’m watching our guys beat up one of the best pitchers that we’ve ever seen in our lives.
“And watching them do it in the first game I’ve ever pitched in the playoffs.’’
Really, no one could believe what they were seeing. Sure, Kershaw has a pedestrian 13-13 career postseason record with a 4.49 ERA, but still, how can anyone envision one of the greatest pitchers of his generation looking absolutely helpless?
“It was shocking, I think,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Said Dodgers All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman: “I mean, I don’t think anyone in the baseball world was expecting that.’’
Now, after a day off Sunday, they will have to beat D-backs ace Zac Gallen on Monday to avoid going to Phoenix down 0-2 and facing elimination at Chase Field.
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Yet, in the immediate hours after the game Saturday, the focus was on Kershaw and his future.
Kershaw, 34, hasn’t divulged whether he’ll retire after this season — he’s waiting until the off-season to discuss with his family whether he wants to return — but a night like this could tip the scales.
“I understand that it could be his last start here,’’ Roberts said, “given how the playoffs could go. So I don’t take it for granted… I think that it’s a real struggle for him to decide if he feels physically (well) enough to perform the way of his own expectations.
“I think that family, certainly where he’s at, matters more than anything. So it’s a real struggle for him every December when he signs that contract. So, I think him and (wife) Ellen are going to hunker down and try to figure it out again.’’
Kershaw was not in the mood to discuss his future after the game. He prays he gets one more chance for redemption. He is lined up to start Game 4, if the series even goes four games.
And if Game 4 is an elimination game for the Dodgers, do they trust Kershaw to save their season?
“I think that if you look at it,’’ Roberts said, “he’s going to pitch Game 4. I’m sure that’s where his head’s at.’’
Said Kershaw: “I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready.’’
The Dodgers have 48 hours to regroup from this shellacking, or they’ll be spending another winter wondering how October could be so cruel.
It was a year ago that the Dodgers were stunned by the San Diego Padres, who finished second in the NL West, losing the Division Series 3 games to 1, setting off a wild celebration in San Diego.
Now, history could be repeating itself, with the Diamondbacks showing no fear.
“Our guys are hungry, they have played meaningful baseball games for the past month,’’ Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “I don’t think they’re feeling a ton of pressure. They just went out there and did what they do best.
“We came out and we were ready to play from the first pitch until the last one. Very impressive.’’
The Diamondbacks vowed to be aggressive, and were relentless the entire game, producing 13 hits, including four home runs. Every starter but Geraldo Perdomo collected at least one hit, DH Tommy Pham had a franchise postseason record four hits, and seven different players drove in at least one run.
“We’ve got to play our game,’’ Lovullo said. “Whatever we’re doing, we have to stay on the attack, because if you don’t, they sniff blood. And when they sniff blood they get very good.
“They’re good, period, but they get even better.’’
The only thing the Dodgers smelled this night were themselves stinking up the joint. They can only hope the Santa Ana winds blow away the scent before it permeates an entire season, giving Kershaw one final shot for redemption.
“Next time Clayton Kershaw is on the mound,’’ Freeman said, “we’ll be just as confident again.
“We hope we can get him back on that mound.’’
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