"Clayton is going to use everything as extra incentive all the time," Mattingly said on Thursday. "I think probably that game fueled him all winter in his training. Then, when he had a bad game early in the year against Arizona, I'm sure he used that. I think he's always on the hunt and he's always moving forward, so I think any extra fuel that he can use or even perceive to use in his own mind to keep him training and keep him going, I think he would use that."
Kershaw allowed seven runs on 10 hits in that game and said he was haunted about it all winter. He was 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA in his two NLCS starts against the Cardinals. Kershaw also lost Game 2 at St. Louis, 1-0, in a matchup with Michael Wacha, despite throwing six innings of one-run, two-hit ball. This postseason, Wacha is in the Cards' bullpen and Kershaw feels like he has something to prove.
"I'm trying to win a World Series here, that's plenty," Kershaw said.
When pushed further about that Game 6 performance, Kershaw responded:
"Why doesn't anybody ask me what it feels like after a win in the postseason?"
When the laughter subsided, Kershaw -- 1-3 in nine career postseason games (six starts) -- added: "It's not fun. I think, especially, just because it is your last start. That's the hardest part about it. Your season ends. It always hangs with you until your next start. I had to wait a long time for that next one. Thankfully, it came. It's not like I thought about it every day in the offseason, but it's also not like a one-day shake-off thing. It takes a little while.
"I don't think about it too much, now. It's a different team over there, a different team over here for us. But it will feel good to get back out there in the postseason, for sure."
Kershaw's first big league game after the 2013 NLCS was the season opener in Australia on March 22, and he defeated the D-backs, 3-1, with 6 2/3 innings of one-run, five-hit ball. After missing the following five weeks because of strained muscle in his left armpit that stretched back to the shoulder, Kershaw then put together a season for the ages.
The two-time NL Cy Young Award winner led the Major Leagues with a 21-3 record, an .875 winning percentage, a 1.77 ERA and an 0.86 WHIP, and he was second in the NL with 239 strikeouts, three behind Johnny Cueto of the Reds and Stephen Strasburg of the Nationals, in 27 starts.
If all that sounds intimidating, it should be. Wainwright, who had what under different circumstances would have been an NL Cy Young Award-worthy season of his own at 20-9 with a 2.39 ERA and 179 whiffs in 32 starts, isn't fazed.
"I pay no mind to what happened during the regular season," Wainwright said. "Obviously, Clayton had an amazing regular season, and now we go to the postseason, and it's anybody's ballgame. This is one game for the rest of our lives every day. So we'll take that mindset into it."
To be sure, Kershaw has had his success during the postseason. He was brought up in 2008, and since then, the Dodgers have been to the NLCS three times, losing in '08 and '09 to the Phillies in addition to last season's defeat. Kershaw's one career postseason win came in Game 1 of last season's NLDS against the Braves, pitching seven innings, allowing a run on three hits and striking out 12. In that series, Mattingly then went to Kershaw on three days' rest in Game 4. Kershaw left that game after six innings with the scored tied at 2. The Dodgers ultimately won the game to wrap up the series.
Whether the decision to bring Kershaw back on short rest ultimately cost Kershaw down the line in Game 6 of the NLCS is really a matter of conjecture. Would he be capable of taking the ball if a Game 4 of this series were necessary on Tuesday in St. Louis with only three days off?
"I don't know, honestly," Kershaw said. "It's too hard for me to think about future starts. I've got to think about tomorrow. I guess last year, it wasn't a problem, so we'll see. I'm going to get through tomorrow, and hopefully we win the game and go from there. But, yeah, last year, I was fine with it."