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The complete Clayton Kershaw: A 2021 #SaveEli postmortem

Or “Why the Dodgers would have been just fine if 2021 was Kershaw’s last roundup” or “One More Time for the Last Time”

Clayton Kershaw’s start on Tommy Lasorda Bobblehead Night. September 13, 2021.
Michael Elizondo

As #JuniorCircuit has a signature GIF, whenever I return to the past of #SaveEli, I shall draw upon the meme I’ve adopted for my own. I feel that it’s important to lean into your eccentricities. Plus, the GIF really does sum up that first trip.

“Why the Dodgers would have been just fine if 2021 was Kershaw’s last roundup.”

When the official Player Review series got to Kershaw, I wasn’t thrilled. My reluctance was due to the fact that I had to genuinely strain myself to come up with anything remotely positive to say about what Clayton Kershaw did in 2021 when I was around, which sucks. It’s one thing to write a bad write-up when someone, in my mind, has done something to drain sympathy. (See Souza, Steven; Latos, Mat).

I do get it - some people (figuratively) defend Kershaw more passionately than their own spouses. But doing this postmortem felt like I had to play the party pooper or be accused of having a cold, black heart (again).

Clayton Kershaw in front of the Dodger dugout before the Dodgers would lose to Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals.
Michael Elizondo

I mean, look at him – he was happily signing autographs in St. Louis when he didn’t have to!

Part of me felt like I was kicking a puppy while writing this essay up. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Kershaw would be an old dog in this metaphor. It didn’t use to be this way.

Kershaw Then...

For context, we need to fire up the Wayback Machine again…

We return to the date of April 28, 2013.

I’m not a lawyer; I am not even a law student. At this point, I’m just a legal secretary that is going to school at night and working full-time at a job that I absolutely hated. As an aside, lawyers: treat your support staff right, as they have the power to make you look like a genius or a drooling moron. I (mostly) only used this power for good. #TenuredGovernmentUnion.

I somehow ended up buying two tickets for $16. I honestly don’t remember how that happened. I just remembered that it did. I tried inviting a friend and he declined for reasons that aren’t germane to this situation.

In fact, let’s let Eric tell the tale of that game:

Clayton Kershaw was magnificent and Carl Crawford provided the offense, leading the Dodgers to a 2-0 win over the Brewers in the series finale on Sunday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

Kershaw put himself in trouble early, allowing a runner in scoring position with one out in the first inning and with nobody out in the second. But after Rickie Weeks led off the second frame with a Matt Kemp-aided two-bagger, Kershaw retired the next 18 straight batters.

Crawford homered to lead off the first inning, then added another solo shot in the fifth inning. It was the sixth two-homer game of Crawford’s career, and his first since July 8, 2010 while with the Rays, against the Indians….

On the very first pitch! I had just sat down and BOOM - Kershaw had all the offense he would need for the afternoon.

I should let Eric continue:

Kershaw struck out 12 on the day, his 19th career game of 10 or more strikeouts and first this season. After walking eight batters in his last two starts combined, Kershaw did not issue a free pass on Sunday, the fifth game of his career with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks….

Since 1916, there have been 18 games by a Dodgers starting pitcher with at least 12 strikeouts and no walks. The last two have been accomplished by Kershaw, who joins Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale as the only repeat offenders on the list.

I remember that day. Apart from Carl Crawford’s two solo homers, the Dodgers offense did nothing else. Frankly, they didn’t need to, because, up until that point, Kershaw was masterful. That game was the finest pitching performance that I had ever seen. I had terrible (by current standards) seats but even I was moved by Kershaw’s performance to the point where words failed.

And yes, I had a goatee then and yes, at that point, I had actually never seen the Dodgers lose in person. (Yes, that feels like a long time ago - especially considering how I got this gig.)

In a weird twist of fate, even though that game was almost a decade ago, I look older then than I do now. #LiveThatSafetyRazorLife

In fact, words had not been invented to describe the majesty of Kershaw’s performance. So with homage to “James Lipton,” Kershaw truly was...

That game only lasted 2:21. I had enough time to eat the best ramen I have ever had in my life afterward and then head to Pasadena for the latest Studio Ghibli film where … you know, I’ll spare you the plot description. But time marches on.

... and Kershaw Now.

And Kershaw in 2021 – when I was around…yeah… he was “anti-scrumtrulescent,” if you will – at least until September.

I saw Kershaw a grand total of three times in 2021.

  • May 4 – @Chicago Cubs – 1 in. / 4 H / 4 ER / 2 BB / 2 K – on 39 pitches. (L)
  • June 5 – @Atlanta – 6 in. / 5 ER / 5 ER / 1 BB / 9 K / 1 HBP (L)
  • September 13 – v. Diamondbacks – 4 1/3 in / 4 H / 1 ER / 1 BB / 8 K (ND)

Clayton Kershaw in 2021 #SaveEli Games

Games Wins Losses IP R/ER ERA H BB K HR HBP
Games Wins Losses IP R/ER ERA H BB K HR HBP
3 0 2 11 1/3 10/10 7.94 16 4 19 0 1
Oof. #BlameEli Michael Elizondo

So let’s break it down:

May 4, 2021

The. Literal. Worst. Start. of. Kershaw’s. Career.
Michael Elizondo

It was cold. It was windy. It was an unplanned doubleheader and in fact the only doubleheader of the year, but I was excited. I couldn’t ask for a better matchup. Clayton freakin’ Kershaw in Game 1. Trevor Bauer in Game 2. Old Lion. Young Lion. I was expecting a clinic of pitching mastery. Yeah…that did not happen – in either game. Baseball!

Clayton Kershaw in Chicago. May 4, 2021 (Game 1)
Michael Elizondo

In fact, I was in total shock at the nightmare unfolding before me – especially the loud contact. That start answered a question that no one asked: “What happens if Clayton Kershaw loses command of all of his pitches at the same time?” Answer: “Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center…as in, lit up as a.”

This statline is just a little deceiving: 1 in. / 4 H / 4 ER / 2 BB / 2 K. Kershaw started the game with a three-pitch strikeout against Wilson Contreras.

As usual, he got him with a slider.

Then the next six batters reached base due to a mix of walks, loud contact, wild pitches, poor defense (looking at Seager and Pollock here) with David Friggin’ Bote providing the bases-clearing double as a climax. (See Cleavinger, Garrett as to why he’s David Friggin’ Bote). But what was truly aggravating was the fact that Kershaw was getting ahead 0-2 and then bad things happened. All hell broke loose for Kershaw as he had no command of his curve and there wasn’t enough speed differential between his fastball and his slider to be effective. So the Cubs appropriately teed off.

I finally watched the telecast for the first inning to write up this Postmortem. And it was just as tough to watch now as it was then. But, had Seager you know been an adequate defender or if Pollock played the carom off of David Friggin’ Bote’s double better, Kershaw likely escapes with only two earned runs scored and probably pitches more than an inning. You know, maybe make a seven-inning game competitive.

When Eric hired me, we discussed this game, and I shared a secret that I hadn’t shared with another living soul, which I will share now.

Dennis Santana pitched the following inning and gave up two more runs. The game was already out of reach, but since I admitted to booing Kenley Jansen (and that clearly had potent properties - baseball), I openly wondered whether I would have booed Kershaw had he given up six earned runs in two cold, miserable innings at Wrigley.

I genuinely don’t know. Maybe. I’d like to think I would have been inspired to make the following cry: “Use your other arm!” As I was an accidental witness to history in a good way, it makes sense that I would be an accidental witness to (minor) infamy.

June 5, 2021.

The Atlanta-half of the third doomed Kershaw.
Michael Elizondo

As for this game, it was more of the same that I saw in Chicago. But Kershaw made it out of the first inning.

Michael Elizondo

Kershaw was chugging along until the Atlanta half of the third when his command failed him again and the loud contact began. Things snowballed after that.

However, he ended his night on a K, and it’s always fun to see Kershaw pick someone off first.

Even a wounded lion can still hunt. But then Atlanta dropped a five-spot in that inning and that was generally that – the Dodgers made some noise late but Will Smith shut the door on Will Smith. There were no heroics during this game. And in what turned out to be a trend, the Dodgers lost in Atlanta. In fact, the only Dodger victory in Atlanta in 2021 happened the day before I arrived. I had my final day with my old firm and I was closing out the last of my old files; whether that was a productive use of time, I’ll leave to my former co-workers to answer.

Michael Elizondo

It was very unusual to see teams drop a crooked number on Kershaw seemingly on command, considering how generally adequate he was in all of his other starts in 2021 when I wasn’t around. That sentence raised a question in my mind: “Say Kershaw had a stomach ache and didn’t play those three games – would it make that much of a difference to his 2021 campaign, hypothetically?”

For the season, Kershaw went 121⅔ innings with 103 hits allowed and 48 earned runs allowed for a 3.55 ERA, his highest ERA since he was a rookie. Remove the garbage fire starts when I was around (so far) and the numbers shift to 110⅓ innings, 87 hits allowed and 38 earned runs allowed for an ERA of 3.10, which is comparable to 2019. Maybe it was just bad luck then or maybe time was winning the fight as it does with us all.

Adric was happy though. Plus, the photo is a good size comparison.
Michael Elizondo

September 13, 2021.

Clayton Kershaw’s Last Hurrah on September 13, 2021, against the Diamondbacks.
Michael Elizondo

By far, this game was Kershaw’s best start of the year when I was around. I went to this game because I wanted the Tommy Lasorda bobblehead.

Adric and Tommy on September 13, 2021.
Michael Elizondo

But I originally wanted to go to this game with my father so we could share a #KershawDay together. The best laid plans of mice and men. Anyway, Kershaw looked far sharper to my eyes that September night than at any point when I was around.

From this vantage point, I watched him rack up 8Ks in 4 1/3 in.
Michael Elizondo

To be fair, it helped immensely that the Diamondbacks were generally a tire fire in 2021. As such, the Diamondback batters were flailing at just about everything Kershaw pitched that night.

Michael Elizondo

Still, it was good to see Kershaw back on the bump and he got a standing O when he walked off the mound in the fifth inning.

I genuinely did not think that the September appearance would be the last time I saw Kershaw in person in 2021.

When he injured his arm a few days later, which ended his 2021, Kershaw didn’t look that hurt. Hence, which was why I reacted as calmly as I did as compared to the fact that Dustin May looked wrong when he was injured on May 1, 2021.

One More Time for the Last Time

One should always quote from “Shawshank Redemption,” if the opportunity presents itself.

Per Editor Blake Harris:

I don’t think I’m ready to see Clayton Kershaw pitch in another uniform or retire. I’ll support his decision no matter what he chooses, but please give me at least one more season of him in a Dodgers uniform so I can cherish every day of it.

I get where fans like Blake are coming from. It was a unique thing I did in 2021 where I was an accidental witness to the lore of the Dodgers on a couple of occasions.

Would it bother me if Kershaw decided to call it a career? No – he’s earned the right to do whatever he likes at this point. He has a loving wife and loving family and unless something drastic happens, he likely has enough money for ten lifetimes. He doesn’t need someone who he has never nor will he ever meet to give him unsolicited advice.

Whether he came back or went to Texas or calls it a career – I would have had no issue with it whatsoever. And it turned out that this train of thought was moot, but more on that in a bit. It would be nice if Kershaw was a Dodger for his entire career, but if Willie Mays can wear a Mets jersey, anything can feasibly happen. I chuckled at the speculative articles that have Kershaw in a Giants uniform or an Atlanta uniform.

I mean, I could hope that Alana Haim and/or Kate Micucci give me a call tomorrow, but I’d be pound foolish to expect it. (Also, these are age-appropriate metaphors!) But in the end, the below clip is how I choose to remember Clayton Kershaw. It’s from 2018 in San Francisco (because of course it is), when the bullpens were in foul territory rather than their own enclosures.

I had never been that physically close to Kershaw before, so I whipped out my (now-ancient) iPhone 6 and took the following footage from my seat.

I could listen to that sound all day. In a lot of respects, it was quite humbling to see time catch up to Kershaw. When someone is that good for that long, it does not compute when they are merely mortal.

But I will always remember, for one fleeting moment, on a September night, an Ace held his crown again. And if this moment is indeed the end of Clayton Kershaw’s story, it will inevitably be the start of someone’s else story.

As such, as I said the Dodgers would have been just fine, then the following happened:

And just like that, a whole lot of people exhaled. Okay, people, let’s do this one last time, and let’s pay attention if this season is indeed the end.