At first, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts looked like a genius. He called on Clayton Kershaw to pitch with a two-run lead, two on, two out in the seventh. A foul, called strike, and swinging strike later Kershaw skipped off the mound and punched his glove in elation.
Then it fell apart. Kershaw came back for the eighth inning and threw three more pitches. A ball, a homer, and a homer. Two quick runs that brought the Nats even with the Dodgers, allowing them to force extra innings, hit a grand slam, and end the Dodgers’ 106-victory season.
Some players are able to forget their mistakes quickly, to take the weight off of their own backs because what’s done is done. Kershaw is not one of those players. This is him after coming out of the game last night.
Getty even posted a black and white version as if the original wasn’t depressing enough.
Kershaw was upset because more than any other team sport, baseball is a battle of individuals. Every play starts with a battle between pitcher and batter, which means every play is an opportunity for one person to be the GOAT or the, well, goat.
Clayton Kershaw is normally the former—he’s the best pitcher of this century, full stop—but his legacy is tarnished by playoff collapses—none worse than last night’s. All of them were weighing on his shoulders as he hung his head, alone, in the dugout.
As a pitcher, Kershaw has suffered plenty of disappointment before, but at that point he looked like a kid learning what it feels like to lose for the first time. When you’re young, things aren’t in perspective and losing a game seems like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you (possibly because it actually is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you).
As you grow older, you collect more experiences, develop more mature emotions, and come to experience losing in a more subdued way.
It’s possible that Kershaw never learned that coping mechanism and that, if he did, he’d be a less intense, less effective pitcher. It’s also possible that last night he just folded under the weight of expectations—the fans’, his teammates’, and his own.
There’s no doubt that Kershaw pitched as well as he could, that the late career decline he’s been on and less than stellar matchups against the last two batters he faced conspired to create his failure.
That’s why watching him is so sad to us. He’s been such a great pitcher that he, even Giants fans have to admit, deserve to win a World Series. That he will go another season without one sucks. It feels unfair in the same way that losing that first soccer game as a six-year-old, despite playing your best, feels unfair.
As fans, we want to see the greatest players win the championships they deserve. As parents, we want to see our kids end games with smiles. Seeing Kershaw sitting alone on the bench last night, wallowing in self-pity, felt like the confluence of those two emotions.
Here’s hoping that before he retires he gets the chance to hoist that World Series trophy. He’s played more than well enough to deserve one, and, unlike a kid after a tough loss, there’s nothing anyone can do to comfort him.