Thursday, June 20, 2024

Diamondbacks credit luck, momentum, smart decisions for forcing Clayton Kershaw’s early exit

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LOS ANGELES ― Before Saturday, Clayton Kershaw had never lasted fewer than three innings in any of his 32 postseason starts. He had never failed to complete one full inning in a regular season start, either, a streak spanning 422 games over 16 seasons.

The Dodgers’ 11-2 loss in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks marked the shortest start of Kershaw’s career, regular season or postseason. He faced eight batters and retired one. Of the other seven, six scored. Kershaw threw his first pitch at 6:20 p.m. Pacific Time and the last of his 35 pitches at 6:36 – the fastest exit of his career.

The Diamondbacks’ exit velocities were just as impressive: a 116-mph line drive by Ketel Marte that James Outman overran in left-center field, scored a double. A 110-mph single by Corbin Carroll. A 100-mph single by Tommy Pham. A 106-mph double by Christian Walker. A 111-mph home run by Gabriel Moreno. All came before Kershaw recorded his first out.

It was a good old-fashioned whupping unlike anything Kershaw had seen before.

“He’s so good at making things look like strikes and putting them on the edges,” Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker said. “I think the battle today was making good decisions. (Kershaw) is a pitcher through and through. He knows how to read swings. He knows how to make things look hittable. He knows how to locate. He’s been on this stage a lot. So as far as making good decisions … that’s the epitome of what we pride ourselves on.”

Kershaw threw 25 strikes in the inning. The Diamondbacks swung at 24 of them.

Aggressive? Sure, but that’s every team’s approach against Kershaw, veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said.

“We really didn’t have a set plan before the game,” Longoria said. “We’ve faced him (three) times before this (in 2023). We’ve talked about … the game before, what did he do with us? How are we going to approach him? The meeting today wasn’t super focused on one specific plan. It just seemed like from the beginning of the game, one batter after another, guys were feeding off the previous guy’s at-bat.”

Walker, who doubled in his only plate appearance against Kershaw, has the highest career on-base plus slugging percentage (1.069) of any hitter with at least 30 plate appearances against Kershaw in his career. Diamondbacks designated hitter Tommy Pham, who pounded an 0-and-2 slider from Kershaw into left field for a single, has a .206 OPS in his career against Kershaw.

For an inning, their past performances against Kershaw almost didn’t matter. Everyone feasted.

“Kershaw, man, he owns me,” Pham said. “I joke with him, ‘give me an autograph for every strikeout you have against me.’ (Seven before today.) He historically does really well against me, so I don’t know what it is. I got lucky. The ball wasn’t even in the zone. I typically don’t even hit that pitch. I got lucky.”

Longoria, who celebrated his 38th birthday Saturday, made his major league debut a month before Kershaw in April 2008. They might face each other again in Game 4, which Kershaw is scheduled to start in Phoenix if the series should go that far.

For that reason, Longoria would not allow the thought that Saturday might have been the last time that he – or anyone – sees Kershaw on a major league mound.

“Those are thoughts you have at the end of the season, or when he or I retire. In an atmosphere like tonight, that’s probably the last thought on my mind,” Longoria said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kersh. He’s one of the best pitchers of our generation. I don’t think that’s even an argument. Whoever goes out there on the mound at this point in the year, we’re trying to put up as many runs as we can and win the game.

“At the end of the day, Kershaw’s going to be remembered for how great he was. He isn’t going to be remembered for that game.”

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