About 10 minutes after the game started today, the world was about to spin off its axis. After a completely horrendous run of starting pitching, the Dodgers desperately needed a quality start from someone, not only just to get a win, but to calm the storm building around the team if just for a day. Clayton Kershaw needed a good outing as well, if only to erase the taste of last week’s train wreck against the Brewers in which he didn’t get out of the second inning.
Despite all that, just 10 minutes into the afternoon, the wheels looked like they’d be falling off again. Colorado leadoff man Eric Young, Jr. popped out to first, and then Dexter Fowler walked. After Todd Helton struck out (and I’m pretty sure “Todd Helton’s not as good as he was” has replaced “Todd Helton was once Peyton Manning’s backup quarterback in college” as Vin Scully’s Helton go-to story of choice), Troy Tulowitzki bunted for a hit. Then Ryan Spilborghs walked, and after starting off Ian Stewart 0-2, Kershaw delivered three straight balls to make it a full count.
At this point, Kershaw had already delivered 29 pitches in the inning. With the way things have gone lately, and with Stewart slugging .542, we could be forgiven for expecting that the next pitch would either be a ball, walking in a run, or for Stewart to reach out and poke a double into the gap, scoring two or even three. Even if Kershaw managed to work his way out of the situation, that kind of pitch “efficiency” meant you’d be seeing the bullpen, in all likelihood, by the 5th inning.
Yet Stewart watched the next pitch go by for a called strike 3, and the crisis was avoided. After 30 pitches in the first inning, Kershaw then needed just 77 pitches to breeze through the next 7 innings. And breeze he did; Kershaw’s Game Score of 84 is tied for the 9th highest of any game this season. In fact, he was so dominant that no Rockie even hit the ball out of the infield until Clint Barmes flew out to Matt Kemp to lead off the 8th. On the day, he struck out 9, and after allowing the 2 walks and a hit in the first inning, he allowed just one more of each for the rest of the day – even getting one back when he picked Young off first base.
The point here isn’t to suggest that Kershaw’s gem absolves the team from their problems; it doesn’t. (Even if Russell Martin’s homer means I’m going to have to hold on to that “Martin is just as bad as last year” piece for a day or two.) It’s just that we all know this is the kind of performance he’s capable of, that it shouldn’t be seen as a miracle that he can outduel the man who’s possibly the best pitcher in the NL right now, Ubaldo Jimenez. It just means that when he does have a terrible start like last week, we’re not being homers at all when we laugh at national journalists like Jon Heyman when he says things like “Kershaw is regressing” and that Brad Penny might be better.
On the right days, no one is better than Kershaw. And since he’s still just 22, the idea is that he’ll have plenty more “right days” than “bad days” in the years to come. So we can just let him, please?