Clayton Kershaw is one of the best regular-season pitchers to ever climb a mound, at times appearing to be infallible. But like Superman, who could jump higher than any building and literally reverse time by spinning the Earth on its axis, the future Hall of Famer has a Kryptonite.
The playoffs, where he’s been painfully and mediocre.
He was just another guy last night with everything on the line. His Dodgers once again were turned away at the Gates of the Promised Land. Four runs in seven innings was not a performance for the ages. He was a man desperately clinging to the edge of a cliff, forced to continue pitching when it was abundantly clear his stuff was mortally wounded.
He’s now 1-4 in eliminations games and 9-10 overall in the postseason. His 4.32 ERA in October hangs like a stink in the air. And he’s now in the unfortunate and unique position of having his entire existence negated by the rings culture, one that values championships and nothing else. One that uses one metric to negate all the rest.
It’s more common in the NBA and NFL. Baseball players are usually spared the spotlight. Not Kershaw. This is his reality now. Eleven marathon seasons of regular season greatness has been distilled to a pass-fail. He’s failed when it mattered too often.
He’s the active leader in career ERA, WHIP, and win-loss percentage. His brilliance has put him in a position to win it all. That dream still eludes him, and may forever. His future in Los Angeles is hazier than the late-afternoon air over the 405.
It’s not entirely fair. Then again, baseball is not immune to unfairness. If he lived in a different time, things might be different. But he lives now, at the height of rings-or-bust, at the height of a binary lens where titles are ones and everything else is a zero.
Rings culture is a force and there’s one way to be accepted into it. Kershaw is still looking for the requisite jewelry. Nothing he can do before October matters to those people.
It’s striking to think he missed out on his two best chances, that a third may never materialize — and neither will the narrative.