In the 178th postseason inning he’s pitched, facing the first batter of his 29 October start, the best pitcher this century allowed a hit.
It might have been nothing, early jitters for the Dodgers’ ace, that gradual settling that even the mightiest arms require. But in the case of Clayton Kershaw, a million minds worried that it might be more. One hit may lead to two, three – to sliders that don’t drop and curveballs that won’t curve and another of Kershaw’s fabled playoff meltdowns.
Or a hit might just be a hit. On Tuesday, that’s all it was. It took until the fifth inning, when the Dodgers led 2-0, for Kershaw to allow his second (and final) hit of the night: a solo home run to Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. Kershaw would make it through another frame – groundout, foul out, groundout – ending his evening with eight strikeouts, a walk and a commanding lead.
And for a day, for a few more games, at least, the existential dread of his playoff existence was put on hold.
The 32-year-old starter went into Tuesday, an 8-3 Los Angeles victory in Game 1 of the World Series, with a career ERA of 2.43 but with a postseason ERA of 4.31. His World Series mark, 5.03, is worse. But here’s an asterisk, some context to the madness: 5.03 includes a start in 2017 in which Kershaw gave up six earned runs – and in which his opponent, the Houston Astros, benefited from an elaborate sign-stealing scheme. So they’re not quite as bad as they look, maybe, these World Series woes. In fact, maybe none of this is.