Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw to take mound in unfamiliar territory

BOSTON – Clayton Kershaw took a couple of wrong turns as he departed a press obligation in search of the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park. The twisting ramps and low ceilings of the 106-year-old ballpark can vex even frequent visitors, which the Los Angeles Dodgers certainly are not. 

Tuesday night, they'll play their first game here since 2010, and Kershaw will climb the mound once populated by Babe Ruth for the first time in his career, not that he's particularly fixated on adding ballpark No. 30 to his dossier. 

"I appreciate the history and everything that goes along with Fenway Park," Kershaw said Monday. "Check this one off as far as pitching tomorrow, but I don't really think about the history part of it too much."

And besides, the mound may be unfamiliar, but the territory isn't: For the second time in as many years, Kershaw will start Game 1 of the World Series, still seeking, in his 11th season, the championship that would serve as the jewel of what will be a Hall of Fame career. 

It was in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series that Kershaw produced what might be his October masterpiece: A seven-inning, 11-strikeout, no-walk domination of the Houston Astros that pushed the Dodgers as close to a championship as they've been since 1988.

They never did hold the Series advantage after that, with the Astros' wild 13-12 Game 5 win – a game Kershaw started – proving too much to overcome. 

And so Kershaw is back, surrounded again by a great team yet still asked to do so much. 

He threw the final pitch in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday night, taking the baton from closer Kenley Jansen to record the final three outs of a 5-1 victory that assured the Dodgers' second consecutive pennant. 

One night later, he was atop a bullpen mound at Fenway, clad in shorts in the evening chill, making sure he came out of his 15-pitch outing OK. 

Now, he will once again throw the Dodgers' first pitch of a World Series, his tone resolute but far from desperate. 

"You know, I really want to win the World Series," he mused. "I think that's no different than the other 50 guys in both locker rooms. I think the only difference, maybe, is that because we've gotten so close in the past, because we've gotten to go to the postseason, we're a little bit spoiled in our expectations every year with the Dodgers, which is a great thing.

"When we go to the postseason six times in a row, it becomes that much more evident that we're very fortunate to be on a great team, but we're still missing that ring." 

This is Kershaw's eighth postseason overall and just the second that's gone the distance. His playoff legacy is often skewed by the three rounds of playoffs in the modern game, and the many opportunities for failures that can drown out the success. 

Last year's Game 5 disaster – Kershaw gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings and coughed up a 4-0 lead – quickly shoved aside his Game 1 gem, and the fact he won Games 1 and 5 of the NLCS. 

Now, he's nearing the summit again and he's probably correct: 50 players on both sides are obsessed with reaching it. 

Not many of them have, as Red Sox Game 1 starter Chris Sale said of Kershaw, a "packed trophy case … a résumé on a lot of sheets of paper." 

And so the mound Kershaw climbs Tuesday might be relatively meaningless to him. The task may never have greater meaning.

"I think we just know how much these moments mean to him, how much winning a ring means to him," says Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi. "It’s a singular drive at this point in his career."

Follow Lacques on Twitter @GabeLacques

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