When you think of all-time greats in any sport, you remember the way they performed on the biggest stages. Fair or not, it's simply true.
Michael Jordan: Game 6. Joe Montana: The Catch. Tom Brady: 28-3. Sandy Koufax: World Series Game 7 Shutout. Jack Nicklaus: Yes, Sir.
But for every goosebump-producing memory replayed countless times in our head and on TV, there are also legends who simply didn't get it done when a trophy was on the line. Dan Marino. Charles Barkley. Ted Williams. Karl Malone. Barry Bonds. The list goes one.
While Justin Verlander doesn't exactly fall under that category, having won a World Series before, and while Clayton Kershaw could certainly win one before his time is up, it's now fair to say that neither of those pitchers have performed their best in the biggest situations imaginable. Their greatness is unquestioned, their place in Cooperstown secured on the first ballot, but while they are the greatest pitchers of this generation, which means something big in baseball, the simple fact is they don't look like it when all eyes are on them.
Verlander provided another example of his World Series futility last night, giving up three runs in five innings and failing (while losing for the fourth consecutive time) to close out a series for his team despite being handed a one-run lead. The former MVP and Cy Young award winner is now 0-6 in the World Series with a 5.68 ERA. His overall numbers in the postseason are superior (14-11, 3.40 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), and he's come up big before, throwing a shutout in a winner-take-all game in 2012 and going eight innings without giving up a run in the same spot in 2013. But still, you can't ignore those World Series numbers.
A lot more has been written about Kershaw and his playoff struggles because, well, it's a lot more obvious. He's 9-11 overall with a 4.43 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Not exactly what you expect from a three-time Cy Young winner and MVP. Like Verlander, he's also struggled mightily in the World Series, going 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA.
Of course, none of this takes away from their accomplishments as players. They've both done just about everything you can in a career and became wildly rich from it. But in 50 years from now, when those of us who watched and appreciated them have stopped telling stories about their greatness, there will be no lasting memory in big moments to carry on their legacy, and like so many other greats, their futility will be remembered more than their ability.