Sometime around 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, Clayton Kershaw will throw his first pitch in St. Louis since … that one.
It has been 47 months since Kershaw’s last pitch at Busch Stadium, 47 months since the curveball that Matt Adams pulverized for a three-run home run that cost the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the fourth and ultimately final game of the 2014 National League Division Series.
I still remember sitting in the Stadium Club with numerous co-workers, framed by the empty Dodger Stadium stands, watching on the big TV above the bar as the Dodgers nursed that 2-0 lead, despairing as two seeing-eye singles found their way past the infield, and then experiencing the crushing blow of the Adams blast.
Since then, Kershaw has faced the Cardinals twice, both in Los Angeles. He has been superb: 17 innings, one run, seven baserunners, 21 strikeouts. It’s possible you’ve forgotten both games, but one of them perversely extended his misfortune against the Redbirds.
In June 2015, Kershaw pitched eight innings of one-hit ball with 11 strikeouts for a 2-0 victory. Then, in May 2017, Kershaw was leading 1-0, thanks to a Yasmani Grandal home run, with a two-hit shutout heading into the ninth. Randal Grichuk singled, advanced a base on a groundout, and then scored all the way from second base when a wild pitch bounced off Grandal and out of sight. Kershaw left with a no-decision, though the Dodgers did find a way to win in the bottom of the 13th when Logan Forsythe hit a game-winning double off another victim of the Dodgers’ playoff past, Jonathan Broxton.
The Cardinals figure more prominently than any other team in Kershaw’s mixed postseason narrative. Since a no-decision in the 2009 Matt Holliday game, Kershaw is 0-4 against them, a losing skein bookended by two hardest-of-luck losses — Game 2 of the 2013 NLCS, when he only allowed a single, unearned run, and the Adams game. In between came Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS, the truest of playoff beatings that Kershaw has taken: seven runs in four hopeless innings. Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, when he surrendered a 6-2 lead in the seventh without a Dodger bullpen to rescue him, was another night when he deserved better but did himself no favors.
Here’s a stat I hadn’t really focused on before: In the 14 playoff starts Kershaw has made against teams not from St. Louis, the Dodgers have gone 10-4.
Four years. So much has happened since then. Kershaw has been through a ton physically and had to adjust, and for the first time since 2010, might not land on any rung of a Cy Young Award ballot. Still, he has put together a quietly brilliant past three months: 2.13 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 80 1/3 innings, with 71 strikeouts and nine walks. His innings are diminished, but by averaging 6 2/3 per start, he can go to the head of the class as far as 2018 is concerned. He is, as ever, the Dodgers’ great hope.
But there lurks Matt Adams, who after tours with Atlanta and Washington, is back with St. Louis. On Monday, with the Cardinals trailing the Pirates by two at home in the bottom of the eighth, Adams hit a go-ahead, three-run home run.