It was nearly unanimous. The Dodgers had to win game one of the National League Divisional Playoff against the St. Louis Cardinals. With Clayton Kershaw on the mound it was imperative the Boys in Blue put the game in the win column and hand the ball to Zack Greinke for Game 2 tomorrow.
It didn’t happen.
In one of the most stunning games in Dodgers history Clayton Kershaw experienced an epic 7th inning meltdown as the Cardinals scored 8 runs in an insane inning that resulted in a 10-9 Cardinals win. There are games that are tough to swallow, tough to fathom and tough to understand, and then there is Friday’s game.
Kershaw was on cruise control. He hadn’t allowed a base-runner to second base, and maybe that was the problem, or else we may have seen his implosion coming. As soon as the Cardinals put some runners on base they started to tee off on his eminence. It happened fast, it was swift and it was unrelenting. 4 straight singles to start the 7th inning on eight pitches, seven of which were fastballs. The harder the Cardinals hit it, the harder Kershaw tried to throw it. Big mistake.
Consecutive singles by Matt Holliday, Johnny Peralta, Yadier Molina and Matt Adams sent shock waves through the Ravine. But, these small tremors paled in comparison for what was about to come. After a strike-out of Pete Kozma, Kershaw gave up a laser single to left by Jon Jay cutting the Cards deficit to 6-4 with the bases loaded and one out. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly visited the mound to talk with Kershaw, any thought of pulling Kershaw needed to be tempered by the realization that the Dodgers bullpen is the worst among the eight remaining playoff teams. That is not opinion, that is fact. If Mattingly would have gone to the pen at this point, I would have expected security to run out there and tackle both Donnie and Kershaw making sure he didn’t leave the bump. When your all-everything with 21 wins and a 1.77 ERA is in the high grass, you don’t run for the hills and hand the ball to some schlep.
It appeared Mattingly’s confidence would pay-off. Kershaw struck out phenom Oscar Tavares on three pitches, a first pitch fastball and a two wicked sliders down and away. Two down and the Dodgers still leading 6-4. All good right ? Not so much.
Striding to the plate came the bane of the Clayton Kershaw’s existence. His personal kryptonite. Matt Carpenter had that legendary Game 6 at-bat in the 2013 NLCS. He fouled off what seemed like a dozen pitches, not getting fooled by change-ups, sliders and curves, simply grinding out an at-bat, while looking like he was on EVERYTHING. Eventually Carpenter would double down the right field line opening up the flood gates for the Cardinals as they would pound Kershaw and the Dodgers into submission on their way to a 9-0 win and the National League pennant. So, here we were, Kershaw and Carpenter again, locked in a pivotal post-season moment. And unlike last year, Kershaw refused to give in. He pounded the zone with heater after heater after heater.
First pitch fastball 95, fouled off, strike one. Second pitch fastball 95, swing and a miss strike two. Third pitch, fastball 94, fouled off, third base side. Fourth pitch slider, bouncing it at 89 in the dirt, 1 and 2. Fifth pitch, change-up at 88 way out of the zone 2 and 2. Sixth pitch fastball, right down the middle at 94 and Carpenter was ON IT fouling it straight back. Seventh pitch slider at 89 down and in, the best pitch Kershaw threw in the sequence and Carpenter just gets a piece, the only pitch he looked fooled on. Eighth pitch, oh the eighth pitch, the pitch that will live in infamy if the Dodgers lose this series. Fastball, 95 middle in and he hammers it…..sitting dead red all the way and crushing it to deep right center. A 6-1 lead evaporates, and even though the Dodgers made some noise late, the meltdown was too much to overcome in a 10-9 loss as Yasiel Puig struck out with the tying run at third in the bottom of the 9th.
This is simply a brutal loss. I lay it at the feet of the Dodgers for egotistically thinking that they didn’t have to switch up their signs and didn’t have to try to keep the Cardinal hitters off-balance. Kershaw’s insistence to pound the strike zone and giving up hit after hit as a precursor to Carpenter’s heroics was his undoing. Confidence and believe gave way to stupidity and arrogance. How in the world can you give up 4 singles on eight pitches to the heart of the Cardinal order on ALL fastballs ? How does that happen ? That happens when you are so confident, so sure of what you are doing that you don’t adjust to teams that make adjustments on you OR you don’t recognize or WANT to recognize they are stealing your signs. Kershaw and AJ Ellis have been around this game long enough to know that when you are getting hit with the same pitch in the same spot, you might be 1) tipping your pitches or 2) they are stealing your pitches. If you don’t think this, then you are not a smart player and you are negligent in your duties.
It is hard not to be fatalistic about this Dodgers team. They needed this game, especially in a best-of-five format. The ace in the hole that the Dodgers have always leaned on is the thought that if this thing got to a 5th game you could always bring Kershaw back. Well, that theory is now shot. I love the guy, but he has now proven in two straight playoff appearances that he can’t solve the Cardinals and Matt Carpenter. A big part of the Dodgers swagger was the confidence in knowing they had the big Texan waiting to rescue them. At this point I don’t know whether Kershaw will rescue or sink them. Do we even know where his head is right now ? Can you imagine the inner turmoil in his mind ? He dominates an entire league for six months after getting crushed by the Cardinals last October, only to get crushed by them AGAIN this October. He is the only pitcher in the history of the game to give up 7 earned runs in back-to-back post season starts. That is unfathomable !
This is a team that can score, they have punch, they can run a little bit and they have solid starting pitching. But, their foundation has been cracked by this Cardinal group. To win this series the Dodgers can’t lean on one of the sports’ biggest weapons. He has gotten them this far, but to beat the Cardinals, the Dodgers are going to have to do it without their ace.
He can’t save them. They have to try to save him.