LOS ANGELES – It’s postseason start No. 24 for Clayton Kershaw and this Game 5 of the World Series is undeniably, without a doubt, absolutely the game that will determine his legacy.
Just like Game 6 of the 2013 National League Championship Series (a 9-0 Dodgers loss).
Or Game 4 of the 2015 NL Division Series (a 3-1 Dodgers victory).
Then again, it definitely was Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS (a 1-0 Dodgers win), unless, of course, it was Game 6 (a 5-0 Dodgers loss).
Mercifully, this legacy stuff was settled in the 2018 World Series, when Kershaw struck out 11 Houston Astros over seven innings of Game 1 (3-1 Dodgers win). Wait – that merely confused the issue, since he couldn't complete five innings in Game 5 (a 13-12 Dodgers loss).
Get the idea?
Kershaw does, too, which is why he gives zero, um, hecks about what you might think of him after he takes the mound Sunday night at Dodger Stadium.
He'll take on the Boston Red Sox with the Dodgers' season on the line, trailing this World Series 3-1 after a dispiriting Game 4 loss.
Another loss, and the Dodgers will still be seeking their first World Series title since 1988, with Kershaw's stamp potentially on two of the losses.
History may not view that kindly, but Kershaw won't lose sleep over that. It is all about the now, he says, and not the evermore.
"I don't really care about legacy," Kershaw said Saturday. "I don't really care what people think of me or perceive of me. Game 5 is a very important game to win the World Series, and I'm looking forward to pitching that game and hopefully putting us in a great spot going back to Boston.
"And that's really all I care about. All that other stuff, people are going to have their opinions, you know, and that's fine. I'm not here to change them. I'm here to pitch. And all that other stuff will take care of itself."
Kershaw will lug a 4.28 career postseason ERA into the start, a mark that reflects some utter pratfalls, a few instances of managers sticking with him too long, and relievers failing to pick him up, such as Ryan Madson allowing two of his inherited runners to score in an 8-4 Red Sox victory.
It tends to camouflage his many October successes, including clutch relief efforts when called upon each of the past three postseasons.
Sunday night, success or failure will likely hinge on one pitch: His slider. Since dominating the Atlanta Braves with eight shutout innings in Game 1 of the NL Division Series, Kershaw's starts have gone like this: Bad-good-bad.
Success has largely hinged on the depth of his slider, which too closely resembled his fastball in a Game 1 NLCS loss to the Brewers. It regained its groove in a Game 5 dominance of Milwaukee.
But it was flat again against the Red Sox, and their disciplined hitters wisely laid off his curveball and noshed on his fastball in peppering him for seven hits over four-plus innings.
"Definitely working on it," he said of his slider. "Definitely trying to make it better. I focused on it. My bullpen focused on it, playing catch. I hope it's better tomorrow."
If not? The Dodgers' season will end, and the Kershaw narratives may begin anew. Not that he'll be bothered by it.
Follow Lacques on Twitter @GabeLacques
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