The Dodgers and their fans weren’t having a nightmare. It really happened.
In the third inning of tonight’s National League Championship Series Game 6, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw got in a jam he couldn’t dig out of. Here’s what went wrong:
Kershaw had a stressful second inning, when he gave up a single to first-time postseason starter Shane Robinson, who previously hurt the Dodgers with a pinch-hit homer in Game 4. Kershaw threw two wild pitches to allow Robinson to advance to third, and only struck out No. 8 hitter Pete Kozma on a 3-2 fastball that was above the strike zone.
Carpenter with the wood
With one out after retiring opposing pitcher Michael Wacha, Kershaw could not put Matt Carpenter away. The Cardinal second baseman took ball one, then fouled off seven pitches in a row. It’s the ability to put away a hitter that helps separate Kershaw from other pitchers, but it was nowhere to be found in this at-bat. After ball two arrived, Carpenter fouled off another pitch, then drilled a no-doubt double to right field on the 11th pitch of the at-bat.
Beltran’s belt and run
Kershaw fell behind 2-1 in the count to Carlos Beltran, then gave up a solid single to right field that scored the game’s first run. Yasiel Puig’s off-balance throw was dropped in the middle of the diamond by Adrian Gonzalez, eliminating any chance the Dodgers had of throwing Beltran out trying to advance to second base.
Letting them off the hook
Kershaw’s next five pitches were strikes – three to fan Matt Holliday (the final one looking) and then two more to Yadier Molina, to put him within a strike of escaping the inning down by only a run. But the next two pitches missed badly, and then Kershaw came in with a hanging, shoulder-high pitch that Molina lashed up the middle for the second run of the game.
David Freese came to the plate with Kershaw having thrown 27 pitches in the inning already. The first pitch was strike-worthy but called a ball, the second was way high and the third was fouled off. The next pitch stayed up and was grounded between Kershaw’s legs and up the middle to put runners on first and second.
Matt Adams, 3 for 20 in the NLCS, swung and missed at a 1-1 pitch, and once again Kershaw was one strike away from escaping with reasonable damage. But then, the 1-2 pitch just missed – Kershaw wanted that one – the 2-2 pitch was a bit outside and the 3-2 pitch was a hair low, angering Kershaw even more. Home plate Greg Gibson certainly did Kershaw no favors in this at-bat.
The big blow
Robinson took a called first strike that was no worse than the two key balls called for Adams. But the next pitch – the 39th of the inning – was a fastball in the middle of the plate that drove home two runs and emphatically made the bottom of the third a disaster for Kershaw and the Dodgers. Puig’s throw home was wild, allowing the runners to advance to second and third, but the damage was already done.
The merciful end
Kozma was walked intentionally, bringing the inning’s leadoff hitter, Wacha, back to the plate. By this time, no hitter could be considered an easy one for Kershaw. Wacha took ball one, then fouled off three pitches before taking a called third strike on the 48th pitch from Kershaw in the bottom of the third.
Heaven will wait
The TBS announcers were like wild animals in on the kill going after Puig for his two shaky throws, and though he didn’t help the Dodgers, neither play really mattered on a night that Kershaw, at the worst possible moment, just didn’t have it. Robinson, in his first start of the series, beat the upcoming Cy Young winner in consecutive innings. Carpenter had the at-bat of the game in putting Kershaw on the ropes. Molina came off the hook after being behind 0-2 in the count.
You can blame Adams’ walk on the umpire if that makes you feel better, but the bottom line is that Kershaw had three other chances to minimize the damage against him in the bottom of the third, and he couldn’t convert any of them. He couldn’t catch a break, but except for Holliday, he didn’t make his own breaks either.
It was an inning that was in such contrast to Kershaw’s performance this year and our expectations for him tonight. But our hero was human.