Back on August 22, following a five-game losing streak that brought the San Francisco Giants to within one game of first place, Dodgers ace and previously quiet team leader, Clayton Kershaw, said this:
"“I hope we’re panicking a little bit. I think panic’s a good thing, to a certain extent. There needs to be a sense of urgency, maybe that’s better to say than panic. I feel like we have to start playing like that. Not to say we haven’t, but it’s definitely time to start thinking that way.”"
Plenty of Dodger fans were panicking at that point, that’s for sure. Sports pages, radio talk shows and Twitter were ablaze with calls for manager Don Mattingly‘s head, demands for the call-ups of Dodger prospects Corey Seager and Julio Urias, and the teeth-gnashing question of what is going to light a fire under this team and knock it out of its tailspin?
Following Kershaw’s call for urgency, the Dodgers rolled into Cincinnati and swept the last place Reds. This was good, but not great news, as a first place team is certainly supposed to beat up on last place teams who can see the end of the season coming up fast.
The Dodgers then returned to Chavez Ravine for three against the Cubs. In the home opener Kershaw took the ball and set the pace for the homestand on the strength of his 14 strike out victory.
The Dodgers took the first two from the Cubs but lost the final game when Jake Arrieta tossed the second no-hitter against the Dodgers in ten days. Arrieta didn’t seem to need a mitt full of goop to help him, but he did have some assistance from the official scorer, when Enrique (Kike) Hernandez’s scorching grounder was ruled an error rather than a hit. A tip of the cap to Arrieta, but up until that, the Dodgers had won five in a row.
Then the hated Giants rode into town, with first place on the line. Both teams knew this series would not settle the season, but they knew it was BIG. How would the call for urgency play out now – with the Giants trying to block the Dodgers’ way into the playoffs?
The opener was a 5 hour, 29 minute epic that had everything, including human bananas in the dugout and walk-off heroics from Adrian Gonzalez, the butter and eggs man. Zack Greinke and the Dodgers took game two. The now-urgent Dodgers had increased their lead over the Giants to 5 1/2 games.
Fittingly, the final game of the series brought Kershaw to the mound in the hunt for the sweep. The MVP was dominant, and yet, very human.
Kershaw tied his career high by striking out 15. He set that record when he threw his no-hitter against the Rockies in 2014. He threw first-pitch strikes to 30 of the 32 batters he faced! Kershaw got 35 swings and misses, which is the most by anybody in the past ten years. He further established his dominance over the Giants by lowering his ERA against them to 1.61, with an incredible 0.84 WHIP.
However, as I mentioned, Kershaw was very human last night. He batted in the bottom of the eighth. It was over quickly, which probably helped Kershaw’s endurance later as he went to the mound in the ninth with a pitch count at 107.
He made quick work of Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco (K victim 14) for the first two outs. Matt Duffy and Buster Posey followed up with back to back, two- strike singles, when Kershaw’s strike zone was squeezed, and he missed potential strike three calls on both of them.
Marlon Byrd was due up next for the Giants, and Kershaw was at 127 pitches, with two out. Stat heads and pitch counters everywhere (at least on Twitter) were calling for Kershaw to be pulled. Mattingly slowly walked out to the mound. Somebody tweeted “No way you let Kershaw throw 130 pitches!” I could not disagree more, and I did at the time.
Actually, there was no way you pull Kershaw in that situation. He still had fight and fire inside. His fast ball was still coming in at 95. He just needed one more out and he could taste that complete game victory. This was the out for all the marbles – for the sweep – over the Giants! It’s something the numbers boys will never understand.
Kershaw had called his team out to play with urgency, and they responded by winning 8 of their last 9. He had carried the Dodgers on his back for 8 2/3 innings. This complete game victory was Kershaw’s. This was HIS nail to plant firmly in the Giant’s coffin.
Mattingly made the right decision and returned to the dugout alone, leaving Kershaw out there to finish the resurrection of the Dodgers that he had begun.
Byrd battled Kershaw as best he could, and it wasn’t easy, as you could see Kershaw reaching down for that extra power that the great ones have deep down.
Vin Scully noted it was a deuces wild situation – 2 balls, 2 strikes, 2 out and 2 on. Kershaw then proceeded to strike out Byrd (K victim 15) swinging.
Of course he did – his number is double deuces, 22.