NEW YORK -- Despite plenty of histrionic hand-wringing to the contrary, that guy the Dodgers sent to the mound for Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Mets was still Clayton Kershaw. The name on the driver's license matched the name on the impressive Baseball-Reference page, even if certain October results might have led many to believe he suddenly morphs into some shabbier version of himself on the October stage.
Kershaw will see your skepticism and raise you a Game 5.
His outing here Tuesday night was much more befitting the beastly numbers we're accustomed to seeing him compile. In a 3-1 victory at Citi Field, Kershaw's seven strong innings gifted us with the decisive final fling in Los Angeles -- a Zack Greinke vs. Jacob deGrom showdown featuring great hair and great arms -- that a series this rich so richly deserves.
For Kershaw, this wasn't just a series-extender; it was also something of a legacy repairer. Or at the very least, it was a means to quiet those dubious enough to doubt him in the first place.
Well, people can take that Kershaw narrative and shove it.
"He doesn't let much bother him," Anderson said of Kershaw. "He's the best pitcher in the world and he's had a couple bad outings and gets the narrative that he can't win in October. And today, on short rest, he showed what he's all about. In my mind, he's the best pitcher in the game, and I wasn't around for those other games, but I feel confident every time he's on the mound."
Is it/was it fair to judge Kershaw, with all his in-season clout, largely on the basis of a small and random postseason sample?
But don't think for a moment that people weren't doing it.
And on this night, Kershaw started on short rest, shook off a supposed seventh-inning bugaboo and destroyed a talking point that rightfully annoyed him in the first place.
"I mean," Kershaw said when the topic of his seventh-inning struggles in Game 4 against the Cards last year and in Game 1 of this series were brought up, "there's no curse or anything."
Right. No curse, just a crapshoot, and one that wasn't exactly coming up Kershaw.
We of course know of this guy as a three-time Cy Young Award winner, yet he entered this outing running the risk of "accomplishing" an unpropitious form of three-peat. No pitcher in history has lost an elimination game in the postseason in three consecutive years, and Kershaw certainly didn't want to be some trail-blazer on that particular front.
Thing is, only a surface-level examination of Kershaw's previous postseason history would find him guilty of being more goat than G.O.A.T.
Parse through it a little more thoroughly, and you could come to the conclusion that while Kershaw wasn't exactly igniting the imagination in October, he was nonetheless effective more often than not. You can toss aside his first five postseason appearances, as three came in relief and all came before he reached the age of 22 and before he became the Clayton Kershaw we know and love (or, in many cases, know and fear). As for the next seven starts, two were absolute clunkers against a Cardinals team whose scouts admit they picked up on some patterns that worked for them, and the other five met the definition of "quality" (and three of those were absolute gems in 2013).
Kershaw is the rare ace who has appeared as comfortable and been as effective on three days' rest as he is on four, and, as Anderson said, the confidence he instills in a clubhouse on the day he gets the ball far outweighs any monthly split statistic.
He's also adaptable.
Interestingly, Kershaw used a much lower percentage of fastballs in Game 1 (41.9) than he had in the regular season (53.5), instead going slider-reliant. In Game 4, he went back to using more than 50-percent fastballs and cut back on the breaking balls.
"Probably give [catcher] A.J. [Ellis] credit on that," he said. "He felt confident throwing the heater tonight with a lot of guys and able to get some outs behind in the count on it, which was great. … Throwing fastballs will either get you in trouble or keep your pitch count down. So fortunately for me tonight it kind of kept it down a little bit."
Staked to a 3-0 lead in the third, Kershaw only made one mistake of note -- leaving one over for Daniel Murphy to set up the fourth-inning solo shot that ended what was, to that point, a no-hit bid. Yoenis Cespedes did reach on a leadoff chopper that Kershaw couldn't handle in the infamous seventh, but a harmless popout in foul territory from Travis d'Arnaud, a flyout from Lucas Duda and a scorching Wilmer Flores grounder that Justin Turner gloved at third ended that mini-threat. The Dodgers' bullpen, with a four-out save from closer Kenley Jansen, took it from there.
"To me, this game's a lot like the other ones [Kerhaw's] pitched," manager Don Mattingly said. "He's pitched really good, just tonight he got the out. I know he went six scoreless last year against St. Louis. The seventh inning, you make a couple of plays and he ends up [giving up] a big homer. Tonight he was able to basically pitch the same way. Cespedes hits that chopper to lead off the inning and it's like, 'Oh, here we go,' and he was able to stop that."
Indeed, he was. So let's officially stop talking about Kershaw's so-called October curse and instead celebrate what he's brought us: Game 5. Greinke and deGrom, dueling it out with an NLCS berth on the line.