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Astros, not legacy, at forefront for Kershaw

Dodgers rave about ace's 'pursuit of perfection' ahead of WS Game 1 start
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LOS ANGELES -- Legacy may seem a premature thing to discuss when talking about someone still five months shy of his 30th birthday. Norms need not apply, however, to a once-in-a-generation type pitcher.

Over 10 seasons, Clayton Kershaw has already built the sort of resume that will one day make him a shoo-in for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There are the three National League Cy Young Awards, seven All-Star selections, four ERA titles and the distinction of being the only pitcher to win NL MVP honors since the sport changed the height of its mound in 1969.

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LOS ANGELES -- Legacy may seem a premature thing to discuss when talking about someone still five months shy of his 30th birthday. Norms need not apply, however, to a once-in-a-generation type pitcher.

Over 10 seasons, Clayton Kershaw has already built the sort of resume that will one day make him a shoo-in for election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There are the three National League Cy Young Awards, seven All-Star selections, four ERA titles and the distinction of being the only pitcher to win NL MVP honors since the sport changed the height of its mound in 1969.

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Missing from that run of individual accolades, though, had been the opportunity for the game's best pitcher to be showcased when the lights are brightest. Only fitting it is, then, that Kershaw will be the one to end the Dodgers' 29-year absence from the Fall Classic on Tuesday in Game 1, when he throws the the first pitch of the 113th World Series presented by YouTube TV.

"I wish I could let it all sink back in," Kershaw said. "But in order for me to do my job, I think I just have to focus on getting the Astros out right now."

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Kershaw may have little time for narratives, but that hasn't kept others from forcing theirs upon him. Until now, he had been the only three-time Cy Young Award winner whose career did not include a World Series appearance. Each of the other eight has won a ring. Four of them have at least two.

And it had been those past postseason runs in which the Dodgers fell agonizingly short of hoisting the NL pennant that nagged at Kershaw. For some, it diluted his legacy.

Kershaw entered this October with a 4.55 postseason ERA in 18 appearances (14 starts) and had shouldered the loss in the club's elimination games in three of the past four seasons.

"I think a lot of them you have to put the blame on the organization and us," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said in defense of his ace. "Every time in the past, we've asked him to come back on short rest. We've asked him to pitch out of the bullpen. We've asked him to pitch an extra inning or an extra batter that, if we had more depth or better relievers, he might not have been asked to do those things.

"Most of that shouldn't be on him."

Circumstances, however, can't alter the images that had trailed him. Those moments when he stood on the mound, hands on his knees, or sat in the dugout, his eyes staring off in disbelief, became synonymous with the Dodgers' postseason letdowns. This year he buried those snapshots beneath others of a champagne-soaked lefty celebrating among teammates and smiling alongside his family.

Video: WS 2017 Gm1: Roberts on Kershaw's first WS start

"I think it meant a lot in Chicago, when we were saying we are going to the World Series," Kershaw said. "That's a special thing. But now we're flipping the switch a little bit, and we're trying to figure out how to win four games."

The efficiency with which the Dodgers dispatched the D-backs and Cubs en route to meeting the Astros has Kershaw uniquely positioned this time around. Each of the past four postseasons, Kershaw was asked to either pitch on short rest or also come out of the bullpen. He's done neither this October, posting a 2-0 record with a modest (by his standards) 3.63 ERA, and will take the mound Tuesday on a normal four days' rest.

The time Kershaw missed nursing a back injury during the regular season further lessens the fatigue factor, as does the preparation that he has seemingly perfected.

Video: WS2017: Kershaw on the special relationship of team

"I think the fans get cheated on not getting the opportunity to see him in between starts," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I think that we, as fans, can appreciate him every fifth day and the energy and the emotion and the success that he's had on the field. But to be behind the scenes and to watch him work so diligently, with detail, every single day, that's something for me, I marvel at.

"I wouldn't know what it's like to be a superstar. But with what he does every single day, working with a purpose, with everything he does, it makes sense."

One the eve of his World Series debut, Kershaw was adept at deflecting questions about the magnitude and the moment, his legacy and this opportunity. His focus remains singularly on the Astros, a team he's faced just once since Houston changed leagues.

All that other stuff is for everyone else to talk about, he said.

Video: WS2017 Gm1: Roberts on Kershaw's effort, success

Those around him prefer to marvel at it instead.

"When you're around a guy like that who is passionate and intense and loves what they do every single day, you can't help but have that seep into your own game," said Dodgers Game 2 starter Rich Hill. "It's his constant pursuit of perfection. It's his intensity in the weight room. It's his continued preparation in his bullpens. His passion for the game is something that everybody can feed off of in the locker room, and everyone does."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw