This was Clayton Kershaw’s moment, his time, his town, and nothing was going to take it from him. Not a Rays team that routinely threatened with leadoff baserunners, not an October narrative that has fairly or unfairly followed him, and certainly not that ambitious baserunner streaking down the third-base line and trying to swipe a run.
Kershaw calmly dashed Manuel Margot’s dreams of the first straight steal of home in a World Series game since Jackie Robinson in 1955. And with 5 2/3 effective innings in Los Angeles’ 4-2 victory in Game 5 at Globe Life Field in Arlington on Sunday night, he confidently pitched the Dodgers to the cusp of their first crown since 1988.
With a 3-2 lead on the Rays in the best-of-seven Fall Classic -- a lead built in part by two Kershaw victories -- the Dodgers have a chance in Tuesday’s Game 6 to finish the job in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex where their future Hall of Fame left-hander was born and resides.
“I don't want to say it's working out the way that I wanted it to, just because being at Dodger Stadium would be awesome, too,” Kershaw said. “But to get to have family and friends here, to get to have as packed a house as it can be and make it basically seem like it's all Dodger fans is very special as well.”
After their wild comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 on Saturday night, the Rays continually put the pressure on Kershaw -- never more conspicuously than when Margot ventured off third base as Kershaw came set with two out in the fourth.
But whereas Game 4 was capped by Randy Arozarena’s sprint, stumble and scramble toward a headfirst slide into home plate as the ball got away from catcher Will Smith, the standout moment in Game 5 was Margot’s outstretched left arm getting tagged by Austin Barnes, who started behind the plate in Game 5, mere inches from the dish.
“I knew they weren't really paying too much attention to me,” Margot explained. “I thought I had a chance, and obviously it didn't work out that way.”
That essential out was due to Kershaw’s smooth toss home -- a strike every bit as meaningful as the one in the fifth that delivered his record-setting 206th career postseason K.
It was also one of many missed opportunities for the Rays. They went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position and stranded five on a night when Kershaw was sharp and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was shrewd with his contestable -- but successful -- bullpen maneuvering.
But before it could get to that point, the Dodgers needed some runs. Those came quickly against struggling Rays starter Tyler Glasnow.
The incendiary Corey Seager followed Mookie Betts’ leadoff double to start the game with an RBI single. And after two Glasnow wild pitches allowed Seager to reach third, Seager scored on a Cody Bellinger single to make it 2-0.
Los Angeles padded that lead when Joc Pederson took Glasnow deep with a solo shot in the second and shouted, “They don’t want that smoke!” after crossing home plate.
But the Rays offered a little smoke of their own in the third. With one aboard, Yandy Díaz punched a hit down the right-field line. Betts took a bad route to the ball, and Díaz scooted all the way to third with an RBI triple. He then scored on Arozarena’s record-setting 27th hit of this postseason, an RBI single that made it 3-2.
That’s where it stood in the fourth, when Margot made his move.
When Margot drew a leadoff walk, Tampa Bay became just the sixth opponent in Kershaw’s long career to get the leadoff batter aboard in each of the first four innings. Margot then swiped second and advanced to third when second baseman Chris Taylor couldn’t get a grip on Barnes’ throw.
But after Joey Wendle popped out and Willy Adames struck out, Margot took his electrifying but ill-fated shot at the steal of home.
“It was a read,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know Kershaw has the real high hand-set, whatever he does, and I think Manny just felt like he had a bead on it that he could time them up.”
Kershaw had his back to the play but took a cue from shouting by first baseman Max Muncy.
“[Muncy] was yelling at me, 'Step off! Step off! Step off!'” Kershaw said. “So instinctually, I just kind of did it. That was a big out for us right there.”
The big out was followed by a big homer -- Muncy’s 434-foot blast to right-center with two out in the fifth. It put Glasnow in an unfortunate place in the record books. Just as his teammate Arozarena has set a postseason mark by hitting nine home runs, Glasnow has set a record by allowing nine home runs.
“I think it’s definitely not like my greatest month of baseball, that’s for sure,” Glasnow said. “It’s just been falling behind on guys and not having that rhythm in the zone.”
Kershaw, on the other hand, had found his rhythm, continuing what has been his greatest postseason (2.93 ERA, 37 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings) after years of much-analyzed -- and sometimes mischaracterized -- missteps. He had already held the Rays to one run on two hits over six innings in the opener, and he proved he could remain effective in facing them for the second time in six days.
“He definitely attacks guys,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “He puts pitches out there over the plate hoping guys get themselves out or whatever the case may be. But he has a very good slider, a big curveball to keep you off-balance, as well. We just didn’t take advantage of some pitches to hit throughout the whole night.”
That’s what made Roberts’ decision to pull Kershaw with two out and none on in the sixth unpopular with the Dodgers’ fans (and the Kershaw clan) in attendance in Texas. And going to 23-year-old rookie right-hander Dustin May, who entered with a 5.00 ERA in this postseason, was a risk.
May, though, went from maybe to certainty by delivering the next five outs. Roberts’ next difficult decision -- pulling May for rookie left-hander Victor González with one on and one out in the eighth -- also worked. González walked Mike Brosseau but got Arozarena and Brandon Lowe to fly out to end the threat. And though Blake Treinen served up a leadoff single to Margot in the ninth, he proved the right man for the save opportunity by retiring the last three batters in succession.
The key to it all, though, was Kershaw once again wrangling the Rays, posting the stop sign for Margot and, perhaps, making past failures footnotes as he updates his own October legacy.
“Any time you can have success in the postseason, it just means so much,” he said. “It's what you work for, it's what you play for this month. I know what the other end of that feels like, too, so I'll definitely take it when I can get it.”