Call it what you will – lack of stamina, bad luck, unrealistic expectations, a mental roadblock, or even a jinx – Clayton Kershaw has apparently got a great big case of it. So big in fact, that it’s grown to be the size of a postseason, 7th inning ERA of 42.49 since 2013. An ERA of FORTY TWO!!! In just the seventh inning!
Die hard Kershaw defenders don’t want to talk about it, as seen by some of the tweets on my colleague Adrian’s analysis of Kershaw – but baby, oh baby, it’s a thing.
Granted, last night Kershaw pitched well enough. He struck out a fistful of Mets – two fistfuls – and he only gave up one run through six innings, but he received no run support from the offense. That lack of runs was partly due to Don Mattingly‘s ridiculous line up which featured lousy leadoff batter Carl Crawford, while sitting the hot bat and spark plug that is Kike Hernandez.
Kershaw pitched well for a time, but this particular phenomenon isn’t about his playoff starts, it’s about those haunting seventh innings. It should be noted there is also the fact that Mattingly has always replaced Kershaw with Pedro Baez in the 7th, and Baez has always made them worse. However, that’s beside the point.
Whether or not Don Mattingly is an enabler of Kershaw’s bad outings, as long as he is on the mound, Mr. Kershaw is in control of his own destiny. Last night was a perfect example of a typical Kershaw outing this season. He struck out 11, but gave up a home run. I went to two Kershaw games in 2015 with the same scenario – he had double-digit strike outs, but also gave up scary deep doubles and home runs. So I’m pretty sure the way the game unfolded last night did not surprise or particularly faze Kershaw. The team was only down by one run, and the game was very winnable.
Then that seventh inning arrived. Only Kershaw knows how much gas he had in the tank during that inning, but something happened and he lost the ability to put batters away. Kershaw walked two and I couldn’t tell if he lost his pitch control, or if he was being so cautious that he walked them because he felt that seventh inning heat, and he was skittish about challenging batters in a one-run game.
I’m sure that Kershaw could not have become the world-class pitcher that he is without being able to block out self-doubts that would haunt mere mortals, but he is also aware enough to know the seventh inning has been his postseason Waterloo, and lots of folks were wondering what would happen when the situation arose again.
Last night it presented itself, and perhaps those voices from the dark side of the seventh inning arose after those two walks. Mattingly stuck with him, he continued to dance around the edges of the strike zone, and he eventually walked the third man in the inning. The Dodgers’ ace had walked the bases loaded, and his night was over – in the seventh inning.
Even though he was surrounded by over 50,000 Dodger fans, that walk back to the dugout after Mattingly lifted him must have felt very lonely. Every step possibly increasing the volume of those doubting voices in his head.
Pitchers are notorious for having some of the most unusual personalities on the diamond, and they must have the ability to wash away bad performances because a new opportunity is usually just around the corner.
If Kershaw gets another shot at the Mets, he’s sure to face a ton of questions from the media about this seventh inning hex, and he’ll surely have a ton of support from family and teammates telling him to forget all about it. All of which will combine with his own feelings about this baffling situation, creating a mental menudo of emotions, superstitions and self-beliefs that he will have to leave in the dugout if he is going to destroy this personal albatross.
I certainly want the Dodgers to extend the series to a fourth game because I want my beloved team to win, but more than that…I want Kershaw to have the opportunity to redeem himself without having to suffer an entire offseason with last night’s 7th inning meltdown being the only memory he will have of his performance in the 2015 postseason.