If you’re a fish, one place you never want to be is in a barrel, because folks with deadly aim, like Clayton Kershaw, are always shooting at you.
But tonight, I’m going to grant clemency to our underwater friends and describe Clayton Kershaw’s dominance in a different way.
Unlike basketball, baseball isn’t supposed to have free throws. Every action on the diamond that affects or prevents scoring is contested. Theoretically.
But in what is looking more like a Cy Young Award-winning season at age 23, punctuated by tonight’s 2-1 victory over Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants, Kershaw has become Calvin Murphy at the line. You can wave bats or banners in his face or jump up and down in a rainbow wig, and Kershaw just sets, shoots and swishes.
In fact, it has become so seemingly automatic for Kershaw, whose latest incredible feat is besting Lincecum an unfathomable four times out of four (with an 0.33 ERA) in this 20-win season, the first by a Dodger since Ramon Martinez in 1990, that it wouldn’t surprise if Kershaw started tossing ball after ball through the home-plate hoop underhanded like Rick Barry. Or maybe you’re a fan of Harlem Globetrotter-style trickery, which Kershaw displayed by picking off two of the runners that reached base against him.
You can foul him, you can freeze him, you can drive at him or away from him, but you can not faze this Clayton Kershaw. Sometime soon, he’s going to go to his mailbox and find a package from George Gervin containing the nickname “Ice.”
“With my compliments,” the note will say.
It’s understood, as if stipulated in court, that Kershaw brings no-hit stuff to every game. When San Francisco leadoff man Andres Torres reached base on a first-inning grounder that Miles backhanded but threw awry, the official scoring was an error, justified in part by the play and in part by an obvious desire not to preempt history. When, one batter after Torres was caught stealing, Carlos Beltran got the game’s first hit with a limp bird of a knock over shortstop, the “oh, please” sigh was perceptible throughout Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw only allowed one runner to reach third base in his first seven innings, mostly dominating Giants hitters while occasionally turning them into tourist patsies called on stage by a Vegas hypnotist. The slow, 74 mph curveball, more a part of Kershaw lore (his Rat Pack days) than his fastball-slider headlining present, was reprised like Sinatra calling back “My Way,” swooning Torres to end the third inning and Brett Pill in the midst of a perfect seventh.
So what happened in the eighth inning? Murphy missed 419 free throws in his 13-year NBA career, so occasionally one inning does go clank. After Kershaw retired Justin Christian, Giants catcher Chris Stewart homered just over the wall in left-center to spoil the lefty’s shutout. The next two batters, pinch-hitter Pat Burrell and Torres, walked, and suddenly seemingly everything was in jeopardy, and you remembered that Kershaw had turned baseball into a free-throw exhibition because he kind of had to. The margin for error with this Dodger team has been that small.
They say when you pull a pitcher from a game, as Kershaw was by Don Mattingly at that point after 115 pitches, “his night is done.” But as Kershaw sat in the dugout watching intently while Kenley Jansen replaced him, his night was not done. Not in his mind, not in the Dodgers’ minds, not in the minds of the Dodger Stadium announced crowd of 32,526 — an essentially legit account for once not of empty seats but of people, making as much noise as has been heard at this ballpark all season — and not in the minds of the legions of Dodger fans following the game from near and far, desperately willing Kershaw closer to victory and his postseason prize.
Fortunately, Jansen is the one guy right now who can make Kershaw look like Shaquille O’Neal at the charity stripe. On seven total pitches, the big burly righty struck out Pablo Sandoval and Beltran, giving Jansen a billionty Ks per inning since the All-Star break.
Javy Guerra then overcame his own throwing error to start the ninth by getting Pill to fly out and Aubrey Huff to hit into a 3-6-3 double play, and it was over.
Cut down the nets and drape them around Kershaw’s neck. The Dodgers are not champions, but he is. There are so many ways to compliment Clayton Kershaw that, well … fish, be on your guard.