Chase Utley saved Clayton Kershaw from being the goat. Again.

As far as the Los Angeles Dodgers are concerned, there was a happy ending to Game 4 of their National League Division Series on Tuesday. With the Dodgers’ season on the line with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth inning of a 5-5 game against the Washington Nationals, Utley plated the go-ahead run with an RBI single off Blake Treinen.

After that, Kenley Jansen retired the Nationals in order in the ninth to preserve a 6-5 victory and send the Dodger Stadium faithful home happy and knowing Los Angeles had lived to fight another day—specifically Thursday, for Game 5 at Nationals Park.

But Kershaw? He presumably went home feeling relieved. Because it wasn’t long before Utley’s clutch hit that the Fox Sports 1 cameras had caught him reduced to this:

That’s the look of a man who (at least in a general sense) was not only painfully aware of that bottom number but also how much worse it had been made by recent events.

The top of the seventh inning started well for the left-hander. He allowed a leadoff single to Danny Espinosa but got Pedro Severino for his 11th strikeout and then Chris Heisey to fly out. All he needed was one more out.

It did not come. Instead, this happened:

  • Trea Turner: infield single
  • Bryce Harper: walk
  • Pitching change: Pedro Baez
  • Jayson Werth: hit by pitch, RBI
  • Pitching change: Luis Avilan
  • Daniel Murphy: single, two RBI

When it was over, the “ER” portion of Kershaw’s line score had ballooned from two to five. With it, his career postseason ERA went from an ugly 4.48 to a 4.83 mark that’s about as ugly as the public perception of his postseason track record.

It’s the latest cruel twist of fate October has thrown at Kershaw, whom most of the world knows as a three-time Cy Young Award winner and generally the best pitcher in the sport. And like most of the others, this one was made crueler by how smoothly things had been going.

Kershaw’s day started with promise. After holding out on everyone following an 8-3 loss in Game 3 on Monday, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced Tuesday morning he would start Kershaw on three days’ rest rather than put Los Angeles’ season in the hands of 20-year-old rookie Julio Urias.

“One, Clayton gives us the best chance to win,” Roberts said (via, “and No. 2, he gives us the best chance to go deeper into a game.”

The Dodgers needed the latter after getting only 7.1 innings out of Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda on Sunday and Monday. Had Urias struggled under the postseason spotlight, the Dodgers would have been doomed before they even knew what hit ’em.

For Kershaw, it was a shot at redemption under circumstances he’s fared well in. While one of them is remembered for a hanging curveball to Matt Adams, Kershaw’s previous postseason starts on short rest had each consisted of at least six innings and no more than three earned runs.

At first it seemed unlikely Kershaw would add another to the pile. The Nationals got to him for a run on 27 pitches in the first inning and tacked on another in the third. But he settled in after that, and the Dodgers offense got him three runs of breathing room.

Kershaw wasn’t at his sharpest. Brooks Baseball showed he was working up in the zone, where he could have been hurt. But he was sitting around 94-95 mph with his fastball, which climbed as high as 96 mph. He got nine swinging strikes on his heater and 12 more on his curveball and slider. When location fails, it’s good to have that kind of stuff.

This is where my copy of Hot Takes for Dummies says I’m supposed to write that Kershaw then let the pressure burst his pipes rather than turn him into a diamond. I’m supposed to write that he choked.

But, nah. What really happened was an unfortunate series of events that didn’t go Kershaw’s way.

Turner’s infield hit probably should have gotten Kershaw out of the inning. Turner didn’t put good wood on a curveball, hitting it just 83.7 mph, per Baseball Savant. If Corey Seager had been playing a step to his left or had gotten the ball out of his glove quicker, that would have been an out.

Then came the walk to Harper. It pushed Kershaw’s pitch count to 110 but didn’t feature a bad pitch and may have ended differently if he’d gotten one very close call:

Give Harper credit for working a tough at-bat, but don’t take too much credit away from Kershaw. The fact he was still making pitches after having thrown so many on short rest is admirable.

“A matter of will,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said (via Dodger Insider). “Kershaw was on empty. They knew it; we knew it. That was some battle.”

Once Kershaw was in the dugout, he was powerless to stop the horrors Baez and Avilan released. Baez needed only one pitch to hit Werth. Avilan failed two pitches into his lefty-on-lefty matchup. That their debacles—merely the latest in a trend well covered by Bill Baer of Hardball Talk—resulted in three runs should not to be forgotten when looking at the five runs on Kershaw’s line score.

Had the Dodgers lost the game and the series, there would be a “But…” to talk about. Utley made sure that didn’t happen, though, putting this game in a gray area as far as optics go.

Postseason legacies are defined just as much by memorable achievements and failures as they are by numbers. Had Kershaw’s line loomed large in a Dodgers loss, it would have been another one of his visible failures to carpe the hell out of the diem in October. Since they picked him up and carped the diem on their own, Kershaw’s performance didn’t go down as another visible failure. It’s more of a missed opportunity.

The same can be said of Kershaw’s performance in Game 1, in which he had to rough it through five innings to pace the Dodgers to a 4-3 win. The fact a series they were heavily favored to win is tied 2-2 has little to do with his shortcomings and more to do with those of his rotation mates.

That is to say it remains to be seen whether Kershaw will find redemption or grow another pair of goat horns in his latest trip to the postseason. If either happens, it will be in the National League Championship Series or the World Series.

For now, it’s a push. The Dodgers are still alive, and Kershaw’s postseason legacy is no better or worse than it was at the outset.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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