LOS ANGELES (AP) — Clayton Kershaw might very well go into the Hall of Fame one day on the strength of his amazing regular-season success — dragging behind him a painful October history he would rather forget.
Another chapter to his playoff woes was added Wednesday night when the three-time Cy Young Award winner squandered a two-run lead with the Los Angeles Dodgers six outs from advancing to a fourth straight NL Championship Series.
Pitching on full rest at home in relief of effective starter Walker Buehler in Game 5 of the Division Series against Washington, Kershaw gave up homers on consecutive pitches to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto that tied it 3-all in the eighth inning.
The wild-card Nationals won 7-3 after a grand slam in the 10th by former Dodger Howie Kendrick off Joe Kelly. And with that, the stunned Dodgers were sent home for the winter.
“When you don’t win the last game of the season and you’re to blame for it, it’s not fun,” Kershaw said, his eyes red. “The main reason (it hurts) is the group of guys in this clubhouse. It’s a terrible feeling.”
The 31-year-old Kershaw has been the heart and soul of the Dodgers almost since the time he arrived in Los Angeles as a highly touted prospect in 2008 at age 20. While his body of work in the regular season (169-74 with a 2.44 ERA) is practically unmatched, he is 9-11 with a 4.43 ERA and 24 home runs allowed in 32 postseason games, 25 starts.
The ace left-hander entered Wednesday with two on in the seventh and struck out Adam Eaton on three pitches to end the inning.
Kershaw, however, never got another out.
“It might linger for a while,” he said. “I might not get over it. I don’t know. Spring training is going to come and I will have to be ready to pitch and do my job the best I can.”
Kershaw also took the loss as a starter in Game 2 at home, when he gave up three runs and six hits in six innings.
“I’m not going to shy away from it,” he said. “Everything people say is true right now about the postseason. I understand that. Nothing I can do about it right now. It’s a terrible feeling. It really is. I’m not going to hang my head. I will be here next year and try to do the same thing I try to do every single year.”
The only other time Kershaw has served up home runs on successive pitches also came in the playoffs, when Ketel Marte and Jeff Mathis connected for Arizona in 2017.
If Rendon’s homer to pull the Nationals within a run was a jolt to the system, the long ball from Soto, deep into the seats in right-center, was the gut punch. Kershaw crouched on the mound before Soto’s drive even cleared the wall, removing his cap and turning his head to watch the ball land in the crowd.
Lifted by manager Dave Roberts for right-hander Kenta Maeda, Kershaw walked to the dugout with his head down, void of expression. He sat on the bench alone, slumped and sagging for a while, looking at the ground.
“It’s not on him at all,” Dodgers slugger Max Muncy said. “It’s on all of us. We’re a team. There are no individual performances here.”
During the regular season, Kershaw went 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA and made his eighth All-Star team. He’s won five ERA titles, a pitching Triple Crown and the 2014 NL MVP award.
But in October, it’s been a vastly different story.
“He’s a pro. He’s probably the best pitcher of our generation, and for him to make himself available tonight, and got us out of a big spot right there,” Roberts said. “It just didn’t work out. There’s always going to be second-guessing when things don’t work out. I’ll take my chances on Clayton. … It’s a guy that I believe in, I trust, and it didn’t work out.”
The Dodgers dominated all season while winning a franchise-best 106 games and their seventh straight NL West crown. Still, they remain without a World Series championship since 1988. And after losing the World Series finale on their home field each of the past two years, the Dodgers didn’t even get that far this time.
Not even close, really.
Washington was able to strike where Los Angeles was most vulnerable. The bullpen was a roller-coaster due to inconsistent seasons from Kelly and closer Kenley Jansen, even if it did finish with an NL-best 3.78 ERA.
Buehler said he pitched with a heavy heart after his aunt died Monday. He struggled to fight back tears after the game.
“Yeah, it’s hard,” Buehler said. “When you look at a Game 5, winner take all, and for it to work out like it did, it’s just different. It would be one thing if we went out there and got our (tail) beat, but that’s not how we felt this game happened.”