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Clayton Kershaw lost, but don’t call him an October failure


Clayton Kershaw came into this World Series with the reputation of a guy who simply couldn’t get it done in October. That was not completely fair — he has had both successes and failures in October — but it was the label that stuck. After his loss in Game 5 there will be many who will continue to say that Kershaw is an October choker. They will question his fortitude and everything that goes along with it. That will be completely unfair, because to say that is to simply ignore both who Kershaw is as a pitcher at this moment and what he was facing on this night.

As was made clear in our main game story, the 2018 Boston Red Sox were simply an overwhelming force of nature. Even with half of their lineup slumping for long stretches in this Series, there was never a time when it felt like they were, or could be, truly contained. We saw that in Game 4 when they exploded in the late innings and we saw it again tonight when they went deep four times. Whatever trouble they had hitting the ball in the wee hours of Saturday morning’s Game 3 they were, ultimately, exactly who we thought they were all season long: the best, most balanced and deepest lineup in baseball, capable of taking control of any game. To expect any pitcher to rein them in seems silly.

But it wasn’t silly to think that Clayton Kershaw — the best pitcher on planet Earth for he past several seasons — could do it, right?

Nah. Mostly because the Clayton Kershaw we all watched this postseason is not the same pitcher he used to be.

Kershaw still carries himself like an ace, but he has taken a clear step back. Whether it’s because of mileage or, more likely, because of various injuries he’s suffered over the past few years, his fastball velocity has diminished considerably and, with it, his ability to induce swings and misses and, in turn, his strikeout rate. He has continued to put up numbers that are good for most pitchers because he’s smart, tough and is working on becoming wily, but his wily qualities are not quite fully developed yet. Where that leaves him is throwing a fastball that is no longer several miles per hour above his once-deadly slider — indeed those pitches have basically converged — and when you can’t change speeds you can’t fool hitters.

Where did that leave him tonight? His max fastball was 91.6 m.p.h., which is the slowest he has been all season. Without any explosiveness, Boston batters could anticipate most of his pitches coming in at the same rate and could sit on them, waiting to see if they were sliders or fastballs, willing to risk that they would not get fooled by Kershaw’s famous curve. It was like a third of his arsenal was gone. It was like taking away Larry Holmes’ jab.

Still, Kershaw gutted it out. He made it through seven innings, throwing 92 pitches, knowing damn well that there was no effective Dodger bullpen to bail him out. The results weren’t great — he allowed three homers and never seemed to be fully in control — but he gave it his all, his compromised repertoire notwithstanding.

As I said before, a whole lot of people are going to use Clayton Kershaw’s loss in Game 5 as more evidence that he is an October failure. That he lacks the ability to come through in big games because he is, somehow, lacking in some essential way. You can look at it that way if you want. I choose to look at him differently.

I choose to look at him as a future Hall of Fame pitcher who, rather suddenly, has found himself in a mid-career crisis and who did the very best he could under the circumstances, trying to become a different pitcher than he has always been on the fly against the best team in baseball. There’s something admirable in that, even if it came in a losing effort.

Dodgers clinch NL’s top seed, West title with win over A’s

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Wrapping up an NL West title has become routine for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in a year in which no one was sure three months ago if there would be a baseball season, manager Dave Roberts wanted his team to still savor the moment.

The Dodgers clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth straight division title Tuesday night with a 7-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics. They are third team to win at least eight straight division titles, joining the Atlanta Braves (14 straight from 1991-2005) and New York Yankees (nine straight from 1998-2006).

“To fast forward a couple months and be crowned NL West champs is a credit to everyone. It should never be taken for granted,” Roberts said. “Truth be told a lot of guys didn’t know we could clinch. We were responsible but I let it know that it has to be appreciated.”

The Dodgers, who own the best record in the majors at 39-16, were the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff berth on Sept. 16. They will open postseason play on Sept. 30 by hosting every game in a best-of-three series against the No. 8 seed.

Los Angeles came into the day with a magic number of two and got help with the Angels’ 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.

Instead of a wild celebration on the mound after Jake McGee struck out Sean Murphy for the final out, players briskly walked out of the dugout to celebrate with teammates. Everyone grabbed a division clinching shirt and cap before heading to the mound for a group photo.

The clubhouse celebration was also muted. Champagne was still involved, but it was players toasting each other with a glass instead of being showered in it.

“We talked about it instead of dumping stuff on people. It’s a moment you need to celebrate and we did,” said Corey Seager, who had three hits and one of Los Angeles’ four home runs, “It stinks not being able to do champagne and beer showers because some of the younger guys haven’t been able to experience that.”

Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock also went deep for Los Angeles, which leads the majors with 104 home runs.

“This whole year has been weird. There’s no other way to describe it,” Muncy said. “It’s sad not to be celebrate as usual but we know there is a lot more at stake.”

Dustin May (2-1) went five innings and allowed two runs on three hits. The 22-year-old red-headed righty set a team record by not allowing more than three earned runs in his first 13 career starts, which include 10 this season.

Robbie Grossman homered for Oakland, which clinched its first AL West crown in seven years on Monday during a day off. The Athletics, in the postseason for the third straight year, currently are the AL’s No. 3 seed.

Mark Canha had two of Oakland’s five hits.

Seager tied it at 1 in the first with an RBI single and then led off the fifth with a drive to center off T.J. McFarland to extend LA’s lead to 6-2.

Muncy gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the third inning with a two-run homer. Taylor and Pollock extended it with solo shots in the fourth off Oakland starter Frankie Montas (3-5).

Grossman quickly gave Oakland a 1-0 lead when he homered off the left-field pole in the first inning. Sean Murphy briefly gave the Athletics a 2-1 advantage when he led off the third with a walk and scored on a wild pitch by May with two outs.

Montas, who allowed only four home runs in his first seven starts, has given up six in his past three. The right-hander went four innings and yielded five runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

“They’re a pretty good team that when you make mistakes, they make you pay,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “They’re pretty good laying off and making you throw it over the plate. They made Montas pay, unfortunately.”

Cody Bellinger added two hits for the Dodgers, including an RBI single with the bases loaded in the seventh.


The A’s have a team text thread they used to celebrate clinching their first AL West title since 2013 during their off day Monday, when the Mariners beat Houston.

“We didn’t really celebrate too much yet. It’s exciting,” Chad Pinder said. “We wanted to do it on our own terms. We still won the division and that was our goal. It’s nice to know we’ll be playing home for the series.”


Athletics: INF/OF Pinder (strained right hamstring) planned to run at Dodger Stadium and test his leg with hopes of still playing before the conclusion of the regular season. …. RHP Daniel Mengden has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas. He was designated for assignment after being medically cleared and reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list following a positive test from Aug. 28.

Dodgers: 3B Justin Turner was scratched from the lineup less than an hour before first pitch due to left hamstring discomfort He came off the injured list on Sept. 15 and has not played in the field since Aug. 28. … Joc Pederson was in the lineup at DH after missing five games while on the family emergency medical list. Roberts said before the game that he wasn’t sure if Pederson will remain with the team during the entire postseason.


Athletics: LHP Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50) is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA over his last five starts dating to Aug. 20.

Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias (3-0, 3.49) will make his team-leading 11th start.

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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