Clayton Kershaw exorcised a lot of demons in Game 1 of this year's World Series, but if he truly wants to rewrite the narrative about him being a postseason failure, tonight is his last chance to do so.
Five days after striking out eight batters and giving up only two hits and one run in six innings of work to help the Dodgers start off the World Series with an 8-3 win over the Rays, Kershaw takes the mound for the second and likely last time in this World Series with his team now tied 2-2. He could have been pitching to close out the series if the Dodgers didn't blow a ninth-inning lead in Game 4, but as things stand, Kershaw is pitching the most important game in this season, and his career, with the winner one win away from hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy
This is a good thing for Kershaw. He needs this opportunity to redeem himself, to prove he deserves to mentioned among the best pitchers of all time no matter the month and that his past postseason failures are more of a fluke than anything else.
In 36 postseason appearances, Kershaw has a 12-12 record and a 4.22 ERA. In the World Series, it was even worse before this year, with Kershaw going 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his five previous appearances.
Those are not the numbers you'd expect from a three-time Cy Young Award winner, eight-time All-Star, and one-time MVP -- AKA one of the most accomplished pitchers of all time. They are the numbers holding Kershaw back in the conversation about the best pitchers of all-time. Fair or not, postseason performance matters immensely in the MLB, as it does most sports, and Kershaw simply hasn't gotten it done.
Tonight he can change that narrative.
If Kershaw spins another gem in Game 5, he'll put his team one win away from winning their first title since 1988 and thrust himself into the forefront of the World Series MVP discussion. If he wins a World Series title after two previous failed attempts, he'll add the only piece of hardware missing from his trophy case. If he dominates the Rays one more time, he'll end any narrative that he's not built for pressure-packed situations.
It could go the other way, of course. Kershaw could throw a dud, the Dodgers could lose the World Series and the conversation about his postseason failures will only magnify. Adding to the pressure, Kershaw's health has been an issue the last five seasons (hasn't made 30 starts since 2015) and there's no guarantee he'll ever get this opportunity on this stage again.
The ball is in Kershaw's hands. What he does with it will determine not only which team takes a huge step toward winning the World Series, but also how people perceive him for all time.