Turns out, after all that close-up excitement, the Dodgers had indeed acquired a prime starting pitcher.
He emerged out of nowhere on Thursday night with summer sweats, an October look and a left arm full of hope.
Maybe you’ve heard of Clayton Kershaw?
He was it! He is back again! The future Hall of Famer returned from a six-week unspecified shoulder injury, played five strong innings against a weak Colorado Rockies team and left the game with the only thing that mattered.
His health. He had it. He kept it. He was whole. He was upright. He staggered out unhurt. He didn’t stumble out slumped. He was fine. The Dodgers loved it.
“I’m not going to lie, I held my breath a bit throughout the game but it was fantastic, it really was,” said Dave Roberts, a mega million player, after a 2-1 win amidst many grateful hearts ovation smiling Dodger Stadium. “It was amazing that he got through five innings like he threw baseball.”
Granted, the Rockies have the worst record in the National League and half their lineup was completely anonymous, but still…major league is major league. The Dodgers’ starters were less embarrassed.
Bottom line, this was Kershaw’s first test since disappearing in June and he passed it with flying colors. He only allowed three hits in 67 pitches with four strikeouts and no walks. He was in control. He stayed cool. He rediscovered himself. It’s been a while. It felt like yesterday.
“It was great to be back,” Kershaw said afterwards. “It’s not fun to sit on the sidelines. You just wanna be out there They want to be part of what’s going on here. You want to help your team win. It felt great, good to be back out there, good to be back at Dodger Stadium.”
The last time Kershaw was on an official hill was in Colorado on June 27, and he complained that his shoulder felt “moody.” At this point, the Dodger nation was getting downright morose.
Kershaw was given a cortisone shot and was only to be out for a couple of weeks. But even though he said he was feeling “perfectly fine,” the Dodgers kept extending his absence into Thursday, which was sure to wow even the sunniest observer.
Is he badly injured? Are the Dodgers doing everything in their power to squeeze the last few months out of him, knowing any medical procedure would cost him his season? Does he agree to this plan knowing he’s retiring?
Those questions linger, and the true meaning of Thursday night will not be known until Kershaw’s 35-year-old arm shows up in a play on Friday.
“The big secret is how he gets in [Friday,’” said Roberts. “If he comes in … feeling good and sort of the natural soreness, then we’re in a good spot.”
A good spot? If Kershaw is really healthy and the midsummer break truly preserved his strength for the postseason and he keeps pitching at his current 2.51 ERA pace, they’re in a suddenly unbelievable spot.
In one curveball-like swoop, Kershaw can lead this scary offense to his second World Series championship while winning his fourth Cy Young Award.
“Just for me personally to be back out there, as long as I come back [Friday] “I’m feeling good, which is encouraging for me,” Kershaw said. “This will definitely seem great to me.”
When Andrew Friedman failed to sign a standout starting pitcher at the close of trading last week, this room spelled doom for the postseason. But if Kershaw essentially becomes that late-season signing, the Dodgers will benefit from the deal of the century.
“Every time 22 is on the mound you have a good sense of how the game is going to play out and I think it’s a spur for everyone in this clubhouse,” said Max Muncy, who played both of the Dodgers’ runs on Thursday brought home with a home run and a walk full of bases. “Hopefully we can keep him for the rest of the haul… it’s just fun to be in the same field with this guy.”
Indeed, Kershaw’s presence changes everything. He’s always been important. But considering he’s never been surrounded by such a rotation, he’s never been more important.
He was joined by other powerful veteran starters for most of his first 15 seasons here, which eased his post-season pressure somewhat. Not this year.
There is no Max Scherzer, no Yu Darvish, no Walker Buehler, no Kenta Maeda, no Hyun-Jin Ryu, no Zack Greinke, no safety net, no wingman, no guarantees.
You need Kershaw most of all to take down the Atlanta Braves. He can do that. He is 6-1 with a 2.49 ERA against the Braves in the regular season. In four postseason starts against them, he has a 1.73 ERA. He defeated the Braves by two hits in eight innings to start the march to the 2018 World Series.
His postseason demons from a decade ago are mostly gone and he’s slowly morphed into a comforting October presence.
If they want to get past the best baseball team and compete in the World Series for the fourth time in seven years, they have to be there. Without him, they can’t even come close to keeping up with the Braves’ rotation of Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Bryce Elder.
When asked pregame if it’s possible the Dodgers need Kershaw more than ever, Roberts agreed.
“This is what we do. We do,” he said. “Certainly what he did was very impressive on the field, off the field he’s also going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But especially for this year. … Clayton expects to make a big contribution. We need him to be that guy. … You never want to put it on just one player, but Clayton certainly feels very responsible for what he’s done.”
In hindsight, it was obvious that the otherwise stoic Kershaw was delighted to have fulfilled his responsibilities.
“I want to be a part of it,” he said. “We’re playing great. Obviously we’re in first place. We do many things well. Obviously you want to be there more than anything in October, but yes, you want to be there out of selfishness. you want to do everything I’m looking forward to being back and hopefully having a good six, seven weeks and being ready.”
Whenever Kershaw pitches in the coming weeks, he will no doubt be holding his breath.
But for one night, Chavez Ravine was filled with a huge, autumnally crisp exhale.
Clayton Kershaw is back and so is the Dodgers’ road to the championship.