Kershaw reshaping his October legacy

Dodgers ace staging postseason performance for the ages

October 17th, 2016

CHICAGO -- Careers are made in the regular season. Contracts, too, are won with performances from April through September.
But legends can still be made in the postseason alone, through magical October moments that live on from generation to generation.
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of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been piling up those moments -- three of them in the last six days, including Sunday's 1-0 win in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. 
Before 2016, the postseason was the one shortcoming on Kershaw's brilliant record. But in the last week, he has staged a postseason performance for the ages.
In Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the Nationals, he pitched on short rest. The Dodgers won. Two days later, he got the last two outs for his first career save in the deciding Game 5. On Sunday night, in Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs, he pitched seven superb shutout innings. The Dodgers evened the series at 1-1. And suddenly, the record of Kershaw having problems in the postseason seems to be ancient history.
The last pitcher to throw at least 19 1/3 innings over four-plus postseason games in a 10-day span was the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser in 1988, according to Elias Sports Bureau and MLB Network Research.
"For me, obviously, I have said it time and time again, he's the best pitcher on the planet," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "I'll take him any day, as well as 29 other managers. The history, it has no bearing on anything for me. This is a new year, and he's shown what he can do in the postseason. So I don't think that anybody in that clubhouse cares about that narrative. And he's shown he's all-in for his teammates, and that's -- for us, that's all we care about."

What Kershaw did here was unique. The 6 2/3 innings on short rest against the Nats came on Tuesday. "Kershaw was outstanding," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "That's one of the best performances I've seen, especially on three days' rest."
Two days later there was the two-out save in Game 5 that gave the Dodgers a series victory. And finally, there were the lights-out seven innings Sunday against the Cubs. All of this from a man who missed more than two months of the season with a herniated disk. There is no overstating what Kershaw has accomplished here.

"To see Clayton, with what he's done ... you're looking at the recency of his last four outings and the time span and what he's given us in October is really something special," Roberts said. "Again, he left it all out there. That's what he does."

The Cubs had to admire Kershaw's work.
"Give him credit, man," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought he pitched primarily with his fastball. The thing that I was really curious about was [his] velocity and location before the game, and he had both. Command of his fastball was outstanding. He didn't really have his curveball today, which should have worked in our favor.
"He didn't strike a lot of guys out. I was taking a little bit of solace in that. I think he ended up with six strikeouts in seven innings, which, that's OK. He kept the ball off the fat part of our bat. He threw strikes like he normally does. So despite not having rest, his command and velocity were still good."

Despite the recent heavy workload and the high stress level, Kershaw said he did not feel different physically than he would for most other starts.
"No, it felt pretty similar," Kershaw said. "I was a little more concerned with just, as a starting pitcher, you like to be routine-oriented and every four days kind of know what you're going to do. So, obviously, my last few seven or eight days has been a little different, so just kind of going into the unexpected ... that was more so of my concern than the workload or anything like that."
Kershaw has taken a large workload and a bunch of pressure and converted it into postseason enjoyment.
"It's fun when you win, so, yeah, I'm enjoying it right now," Kershaw said. "When you're in the moment, you're trying to just constantly stop runs, preventing runs. And the way that [Kyle] Hendricks was throwing, it was one of those games where one pitch could have been the deciding factor. So, really just kind of couldn't look up for a minute for air and just kind of kept going through it and [I was] fortunate to get through it tonight."

Kershaw already had the career and the contract and the whole regular-season thing covered. The man had three NL Cy Young Awards by the time he was 26. He has been the best pitcher in the Major Leagues over the last six seasons.
The one thing missing from his singular resume was postseason success. His postseason problems had been statistically overstated by bullpen struggles that allowed Kershaw's runners to score. But nobody was talking about any postseason shortcomings Sunday night.
Kershaw was superb. He retired the first 14 Cubs he faced. He gave up two singles after that in the fifth and a leadoff walk in the seventh. But nobody scored. Nobody came close to scoring, but then, nursing a 1-0 lead, Kershaw had absolutely no margin for error.

Three times in the last week, Kershaw has risen to a postseason occasion for the Dodgers. He is working on a whole new October legacy.