The Major League Baseball season can feel interminable, even for perennial winners. For nervous fans, every individual game is a cog in a machine, and the slightest slip-up can signal the first of many failures.
For players, one game's mistakes can easily snowball into individual slumps or roster-wide disasters.
The first inning of Tuesday night's contest in Milwaukee against a playoff-hopeful Brewers team easily could've represented such an inflection point for the 2023 Dodgers.
On a heater, the Dodgers sent Noah Syndergaard to the mound Tuesday evening to get some of his confidence back. Unfortunately, a nasty cut on his finger ejected him from the contest after just one inning. The golden opportunity was gone.
As any fan knows, an unplanned bullpen game can throw not just one series off its axis, but can have ripple effects for the better part of a week. If two, three or four players who didn't anticipate stressful innings suddenly need to be pressed into action, it leaves the bullpen short for the next day's contest. Suddenly, second-tier options are being used to protect a lead. Losing the first "bullpen" game is the worst indignity of all; that would mean starting behind the eight ball with a tired staff the next day.
Luckily, these Dodgers -- as Dontrelle Willis pointed out in the booth on Wednesday afternoon -- have one hell of an impressive resolve. They won the Syndergaard game handily 6-2, thanks to patchwork contributions from (clears throat) Phil Bickford, winner Justin Bruihl, Yency Almonte, Victor González, Shelby Miller, Brusdar Graterol, and a third-of-an-inning cleanup on Aisle Ninth from Evan Phillips.
Wednesday, Clayton Kershaw knew what was implicitly baked into his start: Go as deep as you can, a tougher task than it sounds against a loaded Brewers team out for vengeance. Gracefully, he handled seven of the nine innings of Wednesday's blowout himself, winking in the postgame about his necessary effort.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw absorbed seven necessary innings vs Brewers
It's one thing to know how crucial absorbing innings is. It's another thing to actually put the team on your back and dispatch of the hungry Brewers for seven straight frames.
What's even wilder is Kershaw could've probably begun the eighth; he finished his seven "required" innings on only 92 pitches, lowering his ERA to 2.36 and presenting a masterclass for Wade Miley on the other side.
At that point, the "deed" was largely done; Wander Suero covered the eighth and ninth with two perfect frames, neglecting to even consider playing with his food.
All in all, while an overload of Dodgers were used on Tuesday, nobody was terribly overextended. Everybody got a day off Wednesday. No harm, no foul, thanks in large part to the bullpen collective and a living legend.
He didn't "change his approach" Tuesday night and into Wednesday. He didn't need to. His sole objective? Continue shoving. Mission accomplished, and his teammates were spared the spiral this time around.