Clayton Kershaw pitched the opening game of this World Series, but the three games that followed were the source of as much, if not more, anxiety.
“It’s almost more nerve-racking watching on the bench because you feel a little bit helpless and you want us to succeed so bad,” he said.
Kershaw won’t have that feeling of helplessness Sunday night at Minute Maid Park, where he returns to the mound for Game 5. How he pitches will determine whether the Dodgers return home leading or trailing the series by a three-games-to-two margin.
The distance from home plate to the 19-foot-high wall in left field at Minute Maid Park measures only 315 feet. Asked how that that would affect how he pitches, Kershaw replied: “No, I don’t think you can change anything based on where you’re at. It’s just a matter of making good pitches to these guys. Most of the time I would say it doesn’t come into play that much. I feel the homers I give up are pretty legit.”
Kershaw gave up a career-high 23 home runs in the regular season. He has served up another seven in three starts this postseason.
It was the image Clayton Kershaw has spent Octobers trying to erase, the one of him slumped over, hands on his knees as another possible postseason victory slipped from his grip.
Instead, he found himself reliving it again in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday.
Given a three-run lead before he threw a pitch and a four-run advantage entering the bottom of the fourth, Kershaw gave it all back. And then he did so a second time.
Jolted by a three-run blast from Yuli Gurriel, the Astros stormed back to tie the game with a four-run fourth. Kershaw, who threw 28 pitches in the frame, returned for the bottom of the fifth after Cody Bellinger hit a three-run homer in the top half of the inning and offered the Astros’ offense continued life by issuing a pair of two-out walks. Manager Dave Roberts turned to his bullpen, and Kenta Maeda promptly served up another game-tying three-run homer, this one to Jose Altuve on a full-count fastball.
The score sat tied at 7 by the time the inning came to an end.
Six of those runs were charged to Kershaw, who had given up eight runs in his first four starts combined this postseason. He finished with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) in a game for the first time since 2010 and has now served up a record eight home runs in this postseason. That equals the number of homers Kershaw allowed in all of 2016 (21 starts).
Before Sunday, Kershaw had been nearly automatic when pitching with a four-run lead. He entered the night 71-1 in such spots, though the lone exception was a critical one. It came in Game 1 of the 2014 National League Division Series, when Kershaw blew a five-run lead against the Cardinals. St. Louis ended up winning that game, 10-9.