Bottom of the 5th
Lucas Duda strikes out swinging
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. This is not a controversial statement. It is the lukewarmest of takes. He would be on his way to his fifth straight Cy Young award this year, but for an aging knuckleballer's one good season and a historically great second half. His career already matches up pretty well with Sandy Koufax's, and he's only 27 years old. This is all boring copy to people come October.
Wilmer Flores strikes out swinging
Football Outsiders has taken to calling the week after Week 1 of every NFL season “National Jump to Conclusions Week.” You see this is early season baseball too, of course (Jeff Francoeur has finally figured it out!). Analysts abhor a vaccuum, and when the only brand-new data you have is a very little bit of data? Well, you are going to analyze that.
Coming into last night's pivotal Game Four, Clayton Kershaw had pitched to a 4.99 ERA in the playoffs. It wasn't much data. Twelve appearances, nine starts, 57 2/3 innings pitched. A month and half of trips through the rotation or so. To many people it's a discreet data set. And we have to wait 12 months for new inputs. In Game One, Kershaw was incredible. He outpitched Jacob deGrom (who was also excellent, but didn't really have his best stuff or fastball command). Don Mattingly was perhaps a bit too slow with the hook in the Los Angeles heat, and the Dodgers bullpen allowed a pair on inherited runners to score in the seventh. In his postseason start previous to that, Kershaw was incredible, shutting down the Cardinals offense for six innings in a must-win Game Four. Then Don Mattingly was perhaps a bit too slow with the hook, and Matt Adams hit a three-run home run in the seventh.
This is the postseason, where aces are aces, and Madison Bumgarner throws seemingly every inning for the Giants, and Jack Morris props up a marginal Hall of Fame case via a 10-inning Game Seven shutout, and the White Sox bullpen sits out almost an entire World Series. The standards suddenly change for starting pitchers. Perhaps they should. But in between Matt Carpenter's home run, and David Wright's 3-2 single off Pedro Baez, Clayton Kershaw put together another ho-hum, Cy Young-quality season. He's a big part of the reason the Dodgers are even in the postseason. Well, you already know that.
Michael Cuddyer strikes out on foul tip
Kershaw's opponent in Game Four, Steven Matz, has thrown 35 innings in the majors. Kershaw has thrown over 1,600. Steven Matz has clinched two championships for teams he has pitched for, turning in sterling outings in the South Atlantic League and Eastern League championships over the past two seasons. Scouts will tell you that those stadiums don't have a third deck. But the performances were noteworthy enough to come up in Terry Collins' pregame presser:
“He has a feel to go out there and pitch– again, just because it's in front of 2,000 doesn't mean it's still not important. It's important. But this guy knows how to go out on that mound.”
It would be quite the #narrative, wouldn't it? The young prospect whose closed out two minor-league championships outduels the ace who struggles in the postseason. And Matz was perhaps a bit unfortunate in the three-run Dodgers third. Justin Turner's two-RBI double was the only hard hit ball, and the Mets might have already been out of the inning if a rangier shortstop (say, Ruben Tejada) had gotten to Howie Kendrick's slow roller up the middle.
But sometimes the grounders have eyes, and sometimes Matt Carpenter runs into one.
Bottom of the 6th
Curtis Granderson strikes out swinging
I watch a lot of Clayton Kershaw starts. There are worse ways to drift off to sleep on the East Coast than watching the best pitcher in baseball called by Vin Scully. Yet each time I feel like I have been struck with a sort of retrograde amnesia. It's as if I have forgotten how good Kershaw is.
David Wright called out on strikes
I can look at the stats, the bold font dotting the Baseball-Reference page, and know he is a good pitcher. But each time I see David Wright or Yoenis Cespedes swing over a 90 mph slider, it seems impossible. Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson flailing at a curveball in the dirt that defies physics. I've seen it before of course, with any number of major-league hitters, good, bad, indifferent. But it's a striking bit of jamais vu every single time.
Daniel Murphy has hit two home runs off Kershaw in this series. Daniel Murphy hasn't hit two home runs off any other left-handed pitcher in his career. Baseball is wonderful.
Bottom of the 7th
Yoenis Cespedes singles on a soft ground ball to pitcher Clayton Kershaw
So we come to the seventh. If you were scripting this for maximum Kershaw pathos, this wouldn't be a bad way to begin. A topper down the third base line that Kershaw can't quite scoop and spin. The most dangerous hitter on the Mets team getting on base with a little 30-foot poke.
Travis d'Arnaud pops out to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in foul territory
The game-tying home run comes next. d'Arnaud is as good a candidate as any. A young slugger on an ascendant team. Ice cold in September, but swing starting to round into form in October. A stadium ready to explode. Kershaw jams him.
Lucas Duda flies out to center fielder Enrique Hernandez
How about Lucas Duda? He got a high fastball and hit it hard to deep right-center field. It was up and out of the zone. Not a bad pitch, maybe too much plate. And it sure looked like it had a chance off the bat. But the air is cool and that part of Citi Field pretty deep. It only gets to the warning track. Sometimes that happens too.
Wilmer Flores grounds out, third baseman Justin Turner to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez
A couple rockets to end the inning, the second one right at former Met, Justin Turner.
This is a nice little line in the box score that blends in seamlessly with Clayton Kershaw's 2015 game logs. It was also a great performance on short rest in a must-win game. Perhaps we shouldn't look so surprised.
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