Clayton Kershaw is the greatest pitcher of his generation. That will be part of his legacy. So too will his annual tradition of turning into a pumpkin in the postseason. There is no explaining it. Any effort to do so will be specious and unsatisfying. A stunned Tim Kurkjian said it best while almost saying nothing at all in the stunned aftermath of Wednesday night's winner-take-all in Los Angeles.
Dave Roberts tempted the baseball gods by bringing his prized lefty into the game in the top of the seventh inning to face Adam Eaton, who represented the go-ahead run. Kerhsaw performed expertly, getting a strikeout on three pitches. It could have been something to build on. It could have been a positive reminder that, despite the struggles, the Los Angeles Dodgers star can still be trusted to get a big out in relief.
Instead Roberts sent him back out for the eighth to face Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, the only Washington Nationals doing anything at the plate. Three pitches later and the game was tied. Kershaw was dispatched to the bench to look sad and broken. He became a meme and the only salvation rested with his teammates picking him up.
They couldn't. An overextended Joe Kelly allowed a majestic grand slam to Howie Kendrick in the bottom of the 10th. Just like that the 106-win Dodgers were on early vacation.
Small-sample narratives are inherently flimsy, the fodder for sports shouters. But the Kershaw one is an exception to the rule. He's Superman for six months and a befuddled Clark Kent in October. The analogy works because he's not terrible in the playoffs, just average.
One feels for him on a human level. No one said baseball is supposed to be fair, yet Kershaw's existence seems unfair. It sucks that the haters have been vindicated time and time again. It is a shame his greatness has not translated.
Once again, he stood up in the moment and faced the music. This is all he can say. The years-long, desperate search for answers has been unproductive. It's not hyperbolic to think this was Kershaw's last and best chance to rewrite his story and win a World Series.
The simpleton will be loud and proud this morning, quick to use the words "fraud" and "choker". And that's unfortunate. What they should realize is that sports, especially in the highest of leverages, are a zero-sum game. For every hero there must be a goat. Those who don't survive and advance die and recede.
Kershaw's tragic fate is painful to watch. He'll never live this down. He'll forever be defined by his stumbles. The only absolution once again eluded him at his own hands.
This narrative shouldn't exist. It shouldn't be undeniably true. But it does.