Game 20 // Sixth Inning, Los Angeles // King Kershaw Crumbles

TOP OF THE SIXTH: MARLINS 5 0 – 3 DODGERS

 

We start tonight in the presence of greatness—predating the stadium, half the league’s teams, and nearly the state of California: the legendary, the avuncular Vin Scully, who’s now in his final (and 67th) year calling Dodger baseball games. I tune in between the 5th and 6th innings, expecting some TV ads, and instead I get a fireside chat from the best broadcaster in sports, an almost painfully pleasant talk about the many triple plays in Dodger history, as Clayton Kershaw strolls back up onto the mound to face Adeiny Hechavarria.

If only Sir Scully knew what was coming… I hate to picture him dealing with the mini-heartache of a Kershaw meltdown… I’m hoping he gets to see (and call) a World Series in his final season, but tonight was a step in the wrong direction.

Through five innings, Kershaw’s given up just one hit, and no runs, with a sturdy 3-0 lead, against a team they have every right to be dominating.

Kershaw gets the first out right away—Hechavarria lining out hard to Chase Utley, one of the first hard-hit balls of the game for the Marlins.

Miguel Rojas comes up now, a defensive replacement, and as Scully says quaintly: “He’s a dandy with the glove.”

Tom Koehler, meanwhile, the just-pulled Marlins starter, sits looking humid and frazzled in the dugout, exhausted from five innings against this stacked Dodger lineup.

With Rojas stepping into the box, Kershaw starts up his patented long-stretch windup, arms raised together to the heavens, wrist bent awkwardly into the glove, as he cranks his body back onto bent knees and delivers a curveball—Rojas lifts a on a soft arc down the left field line, as SS and LF track it down rolling toward the foul-line chalk. Jogging in easily to second, Rojas calls time as he takes off his batting gloves and Dee Gordon comes up to bat.

The same Dee Gordon who stole 64 bases for the 2014 Dodgers, the same Dee Gordon who—well, given what happened later this week—won’t be putting on an MLB jersey anytime soon. Not looking good for Dee, as tonight’s game is like a last hurrah before the news breaks about an 80-game PED suspension that took nearly everyone by surprise. Him?? The skinniest guy (next to Ichiro) in the league? Dee Gordon? Steroids??

Gordon’s struck twice tonight against Kershaw, who’s walked none and has eight K’s on the night. He throws a slow, bending curve and jolts up with a quick reflex as Gordon hits a comebacker right back to the mound, bouncing off Kershaw’s left knee and into the grass, as he fields it cleanly and whips it to first, but Gordon’s speed down the line beats it out, just barely. Now we’ve got something going here.

Martín Prado comes up now—two men on, and the heart of the order coming up.

I notice there’s a woman with bright purple dyed hair in the front row, cheering at every pitch—is that just an L.A. thing, or an awesome homage to “Purple Rain”? (Rest in peace…)

Prado lines the first pitch into center, shooting over Kershaw and into the outfield grass. 3-1 now. Vin Scully as calm as ever, but that sheen of story-telling joy a little more dim. This game suddenly became not so fun anymore.

If he didn’t realize it by now, Kershaw is in serious trouble—as Christian Yelich comes up to bat from the on-deck circle, who’s maybe the most underrated, under-known hitter in baseball, and easily one of the National League’s best.

“He does everything else right handed,” Scully says, “but bats left.” Not sure what to call that… semi-ambidextrous? Quasi-switch-hitting? Kershaw delivers a nasty slider and Yelich whiffs, the count now 2-2. But… just off to the side, a sight that must be getting in Kershaw’s head, Giancarlo Stanton looms. This could be trouble.

But the Dodgers fans don’t look nervous at all. Why would they be?

Yelich rips yet another line drive, to left, just out of the infield, as Dee Gordon runs through a stop sign at third and scores easily from second, taking a wide turn into the grass almost into the Dodger dugout, to bring the game to 3-2. The pitching coach comes out the mound, joined by the infield and catcher, to ask Hey Clayton, everything…alright??

They stick with their man. To their credit, he’s still by far the best option they’ve got. But it’s 3-2 now, with two men on base, against… well maybe the best slugger in the NL. But Kershaw’s got this… I think?

We’ve got an old-fashioned duel on our hands, an American-west battle like an old folktale, Paul Bunyan against Pecos Bill, John Henry against—wait a second—whoa. Whoa. Whoaaaaaa!!! Add a fourth name to that list, write up a new chapter of American folklore for the great legend of Giancarlo Stanton, fire up the presses. WOW…

He swings his bat through the air as if he’s wielding a samurai sword, attacking the ball like he’s lashing it with years-worth of revenge on the one that struck him in the jaw—hitting it on the most frozen of frozen ropes out to deep, deep center, out of the ballpark in about 1.5 seconds.

Three-run home run, 5-3 lead now for the Marlins, and Kershaw is floored, literally, sent into a depressive crouch on the mound, shocked at how quickly a one-hitter could disappear, shocked that he could leave a fastball up that badly, shocked that this isn’t a dream and he’s stuck still on the mound to get out of this inning. Stanton jogs around the bases and then struts into the dugout, sipping Gatorade coolly, smiling, beaming, as if he can’t even believe it himself.

“Stanton is Stanton is Stanton,” says Vin Scully, “as he hits a three-run bomb almost effortlessly.”

Kershaw, for whatever it’s worth, snaps out of it and returns back to Kershawism. Nasty strikeout. Two outs.

Well, I take that back. Realmuto hit by pitch. What’s going on here? Then the real Kershaw stands back up, striking out Chris Johnson on three pitches, inning over.

Weird. Just weird. Baseball is weird. Weird but… amazing. But weird over everything else.

“Baseball is so wonderful, so marvelous,” Sir Scully chimes in, “and when you lose it, you have lost it , for however long it takes. Clayton was just sailing… and then the roof fell in… but there wasn’t a sign of it…”

Just don’t get too down, Mr. Scully—it’ll all be okay. I think. It’s Clayton M-F Kershaw. It’ll be fine. Won’t it?

 

Previously:

5th Inning: HOU vs. BOS

7th Inning: TEX vs. BAL

4th Inning: BOS vs. TBR

3rd Inning: WSH vs. ATL

7th Inning: BAL vs. BOS

8th Inning: CHC vs. CIN

8th Inning: SFG vs. LAD

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