Dodgers manager Dave Roberts campaigned for his pitcher before the game. His teammates then confirmed his certificates in the clubhouse.
But on Saturday night, in the Dodgers’ 4-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, the biggest boost to Clayton Kershaw’s All-Star Game bid came from what the 34-year-old left-hander did on the mound.
In 7⅔ stellar innings, Kershaw gave up just two runs, one of them earned.
He scored his fastball and dominated with his slider, he had twice as many strikeouts (10) as hits given (five).
And in front of 45,198 spectators at Dodger Stadium, he continued his scintillating, if disrupted, season, lowering his earned run average to a lustrous 2.40 after his longest start of the year.
“If he’s healthy, he’s an All-Star,” Roberts said. “He’s one of the best in baseball.”
Kershaw was unhealthy for much of the first half, missing a month with a back injury. Because of this, he doesn’t have the workload of other All-Star contenders in the National League, having only served 63⅔ innings.
But on the eve of announcing Major League Baseball’s full roster for the Midsummer Classic, he made a firm claim to his ninth All-Star selection of his career — and perhaps a first start in the event.
“It’s a great honor and very special,” said Kershaw. “But I don’t want it to be one of those things where I take a seat or take something from someone who deserves it more. Luckily I don’t have to make that call.”
Hours before the first pitch, Roberts was more willing to make Kershaw’s claim. He pointed to the veteran’s stats, with Kershaw’s ERA now ranking fifth among NL pitchers with at least 60 innings.
“What he did with the time he pitched was elitist,” Roberts said. “It’s just hard to imagine an All-Star Game without Clayton Kershaw considering he also performed very well.”
Roberts also noted the poetic potential of Kershaw starting the game at Dodger Stadium.
“I’ve been reluctant to go as far as how to start, but the game is for the fans and it’s only fitting that Clayton get this opportunity,” Roberts said, adding, “I’d be crazy if I wouldn’t believe that Clayton should be called the starter.”
It wasn’t until after the game that Roberts realized that Kershaw has never started an All-Star game, one of the few accomplishments he has eluded during a Hall of Fame-caliber career.
“He’s doing everything he can to not only earn his way onto the team, but to earn the right to have the opportunity to be the starter,” Roberts said.
Longtime teammate Justin Turner added: “Obviously the guy ticked pretty much every box there was in that game. I’m sure that would absolutely be the icing on the cake of anything he could achieve.”
If Kershaw makes the team — something Roberts was confident would happen Saturday — the starting decision rests with Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who will lead the NL team after the Braves won the pennant last year.
Roberts, who will be on Snitker’s coaching staff, said the two have yet to have talks about the election. Still, “I know Brian is a fan of the game and understands the fanbase,” Roberts said. “So it wouldn’t surprise me if Clayton is named as the starter and the game starts.”
Kershaw certainly looked worthy on Saturday.
In the first inning, he hit the side 15 squares, propelling him to his 67th double-digit strikeout game of his career.
“He had a different kind of edge tonight — and a good edge,” Roberts said. “He just attacked from the start.”
By four innings, Kershaw had faced the minimum and erased a lone second-inning single with a double play.
“Even though he’s 91-92 [mph with the fastball], that slider is still so unbeatable,” said first baseman Freddie Freeman, a first-time teammate for Kershaw after playing against him for the past 12 years. “I’ve seen it so many times. It looks like a heater every time and dies at the last second.”
Kershaw was forced to do some damage control in the fifth round, giving up a run on a sacrificial fly after the Cubs (34-51) took a singles and doubles lead.
He gave up an unearned run in the seventh after Patrick Wisdom doubled, stole third place and hit an unearned run on a poor throw at shortstop Trea Turner’s plate, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead.
By the time Kershaw returned to the mound in the eighth game, the Dodgers (55-29) had reclaimed the lead thanks to a game-defining solo home run from Jake Lamb and a two-part single from Freeman — one of several other Dodgers Roberts hopes will help received an All-Star selection on Sunday.
“When it happens, it happens; that would be great,” said Freeman, one of the five other Dodgers Roberts hopes will join Mookie Betts and Turner in the game.
“If not, just go and take four days off. It is in order. You obviously want to play well, and when that all happens, hanging out with some of the guys you can’t hang out with is just an added bonus. But it’s not the end of the world,” the team doesn’t do.
However, an All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium without Kershaw would leave a void.
Starter or not, his presence added to the atmosphere of the first All-Star game at Chavez Ravine in 42 years – just as it electrified the stadium on Saturday night as he left the mound to a standing ovation from a crowd hoping for his next appearance in less than two weeks to the midsummer classic in the stadium.
“It’s cool that people care,” Kershaw said. “I’ve said it before, it just goes to show I’ve been here a long time, which is special. I don’t take it for granted, being here as long as I’ve had it. I know it would mean something to a lot of Dodger fans out there, which is really cool.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2022-07-09/clayton-kershaw-makes-emphatic-all-star-case-leads-dodgers-past-cubs Clayton Kershaw makes All-Star case, leads Dodgers past Cubs