LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw walked down the left-field line at Dodger Stadium. He ran sprints, went through his stretch and then fired some long tosses in the outfield. It’s part of the routine he’s done before each start inside the only ballpark he’s called home at the big league level.
This time, however, it was a little bit different for the longtime Dodgers ace. Because he’s usually locked in, Kershaw tries to tune out everything that is going on in the stands. His mind is on the game plan and execution.
On Tuesday, starting his first career Midsummer Classic, Kershaw made an exception to that routine. He made sure to stare into the stands, appreciating the moment, something he’s done more this season. As he walked down the left-field line before the game, Kershaw tipped his cap at the Dodger Stadium crowd, the same people that have seen him grow from a 20-year-old kid to now a 34-year-old father of four.
“It’s not that I was unappreciative in my younger days. I just felt like I had to keep my nose down and keep going. I think that’s what I felt like I needed to do in order to be successful,” Kershaw said after starting the National League’s 3-2 loss to the American League. “But I think as I’ve gotten older, understanding moments like these are unique and just kind of understanding that it’s not going to happen again.
“Knowing that I’m not going to get to start an All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium ever again, it was just really cool for me to kind of take that all in at once.”
Minutes before his start, Kershaw said his game plan was to “throw as hard as I can. It’ll be 91 mph, and we’ll see what happens.” The results turned out just fine as Kershaw allowed a single, but struck out Yankees superstar Aaron Judge en route to a scoreless first inning.
“Clayton Kershaw, Hall of Famer, getting a chance to pitch in his own stadium in front of a fanbase that has cheered him on since he was a kid,” said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman. “I think everybody was looking forward to that, and he didn’t disappoint.”
Mookie Betts, Tony Gonsolin, Trea Turner and Freeman also represented the Dodgers on Tuesday. Betts delivered a pregame speech, getting the entire ballpark to wish Mrs. Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s wife, a happy 100th birthday. He also drove in the first run of the game on a single off AL starter Shane McClanahan of the Rays.
Gonsolin, on the other hand, had his struggles on the mound, allowing back-to-back homers and taking the loss. But in the end, the must-see event for the Dodgers’ players was getting a chance to witness Kershaw get the start in the Midsummer Classic.
Kershaw gave up a leadoff single to Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, who announced before the game that he was going to swing at the first pitch. He followed through with his promise, jumping on Kershaw's predicted 91 mph fastball.
“I asked him why he didn’t throw a curveball because [Ohtani] said he was going to swing first pitch,” said Turner. “But Clayton said, ‘I’m not that kind of guy. I want to challenge him.’ It was a great matchup and great to see.”
While Ohtani got Kershaw first, the Dodgers’ left-hander ended up getting the last laugh. Because he didn’t know what pitch to throw to Judge, Kershaw threw over to first base in order to buy some time. Ohtani, however, was caught leaning and was picked off for the first out of the inning. Kershaw is known for his signature pickoff move. The one on Tuesday had a little bit more luck involved.
“I just kind of lobbed it over there,” Kershaw laughed. “Made the pitch count safer. It was good.”
Kershaw then struck out Judge, walked Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers and got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning. It was yet another scoreless inning for Kershaw at Dodger Stadium.
“I think getting to do this is really cool, and I’ll remember it 10 years from now,” Kershaw said. “I don’t know if I have the right words for it right now. But it was such a unique experience for me that I think I’ll look back on it and think, ‘Man, I’m so glad I got to do that.’ I’m really thankful I got that opportunity.”