Clayton Kershaw dismantles his playoff narrative in brilliant Game 2 start against Cubs

Clayton Kershaw dismantles his playoff narrative in brilliant Game 2 start against Cubs

Clayton Kershaw had just turned in a narrative-busting gem, so the Los Angeles Dodgers ace was a little perturbed when the first question he fielded in his postgame media session was if he thought Javier Baez’s seventh-inning flyout was going to sail over the center field ivy for a home run. 

“That’s your first freakin’ question?” Kershaw bristled. 

“Yeah, I did. I thought it was out, for sure. He hit it pretty good.”

It wasn’t an unfair question — the exit velocity on Baez’s warning track flyout to center was 103 miles per hour, making it the Cubs’ hardest-hit ball of the game — but Kershaw wasn’t interested in entertaining it after his seven shutout innings shoveled more dirt on the “Kershaw can’t pitch well in the postseason” storyline. 

Showing no ill effects of starting against the Washington Nationals on three days’ rest in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday and getting the final two outs of Game 5 Thursday, Kershaw plowed through the Cubs’ order using mostly fastballs and sliders without a good feel for his signature looping curveball. He didn’t go to a three-ball count until facing Dexter Fowler with one out in the sixth inning and got Jason Heyward to pop out to end the fifth, the only at-bat a Cubs player had Sunday with a runner in scoring position. 

Kershaw threw 84 pitches (50 fastballs, 23 sliders and nine curveballs, according to and held the Cubs to two hits with one walk and six strikeouts. That walk, though, came on four pitches to Anthony Rizzo to lead off the seventh — an inning in which, in his playoff career, Kershaw entered Sunday with a 28.93 ERA. 

But Kershaw struck out Ben Zobrist on a fastball — the Cubs’ left fielder “took one down the middle, thankfully,” Kershaw said — and got in on Addison Russell’s hands for a flyout before Baez came within a few feet of finding the center field basket for what would’ve been a go-ahead home run. 

Before Baez stepped in, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts came out to talk to Kershaw with the initial intention of pulling him from the game for closer Kenley Jansen, who would’ve been tasked with a seven-out save. But Kershaw convinced his manager to leave him in, and despite the gasps as soon as Baez made contact with a 93 mile per hour 0-1 fastball, the move paid off. 

“There was no way he was going to come out of the game not getting that out,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. 

Kershaw said part of his thought process in convincing Roberts to let him stay in the game was to give Jansen — who threw 51 pitches Thursday in Washington — less of a workload, but: “Mainly I thought I could get him out, and came really close to not doing it,” Kershaw said. 

The Cubs are now faced with the looming specter of Kershaw pitching in a clinching game, be it as early as Game 5 in Los Angeles (which would again be on three days’ rest) or a potential Game 6 in Chicago (on five days’ rest). For a franchise looking to eradicate a narrative of its own, that’s an unsettling prospect as the series shifts to southern California tied at one. 

“He's the best pitcher on the planet,” Roberts said. “I’ll take him any day, as well as 29 other managers. And so for me, the history, it has no bearing on anything for me. This is a new year, and he's shown what he can do in the postseason.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long can Cubs stick with Tyler Chatwood?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long can Cubs stick with Tyler Chatwood?

On tonight's episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Kap hosts David Haugh, Jason Goch and Rich Campbell. Tyler Chatwood's control issues continued on Tuesday. How long can the Cubs withstand his walks before needing to make a change? What's more concerning, Chatwood's control or Brandon Morrow's bad back?

Plus, the NBA Draft is two days away. How big is this for Gar Forman and John Paxson? And does Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo intrigue you at all?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: