Clayton Kershaw found his groove on Monday night in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
The same groove that Stella retreived in Jamaica with a young Taye Diggs many moons ago. The same groove theory that had abandoned Kershaw in the playoffs throughout most of his brilliant career until finding it on the mound against the mighty Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Despite his multiple Cy Young awards and MVP billing, entering Game 2 of the NLCS LA’s golden-armed, blonde bomber had a 7.32 ERA in his NLCS career.
But this time his playoff performance matched the potency of his regular season smackdown. Kershaw two-hit the Cubs over seven innings and struck out six before closer Kenley Jansen finished off the final two innings for a 1-0 Dodgers win.
The series now swings to L.A. locked at one game apiece. Game 3 will be played on Tuesday night.
The only offensive help Kershaw needed was a second-inning solo shot by Adrian Gonzalez.
It was a “typical” regular season outing and the baseball gods finally blessed Kershaw with his best stuff in October. If Kershaw is finally over that playoff wall that has stifled his postseason so many times before, then that changes the complexion of this series.
He didn’t pitch lights out in the NLCS against the Washington Nationals, but he did pitch well enough and was clutch enough to win two games and save the clincher. That series seemed to change the perspective of Kershaw as a playoff failure.
Sometimes you have to alter your routine in the postseason because everything is turned upside down. The bench players become legends, the superstars get booed, managers make or break careers and pitchers have no margin for error.
Kershaw showed a willingness to take the ball at a moment’s notice. Instead of multiple innings of responsibility, he was able to revive his playoff mojo by pitching in the most crucial spot of the game and coming through by delivering a few key pitches to some potentially dangerous batters to seal the win.
It was the monkey off of his back that allowed him to enter Game 2 with the same nothing-to-prove attitude that he torments opposing batters with for 30 plus starts over a 162-game season.
What makes his Game 2 "W" even more gangster is the fact that Kershaw threw 110 pitches just two days prior in his Game 4 NLDS start (on short rest). Most reports had Kershaw being unavailable to pitch until Game 3 of this series. By taking the ball in Game 2 and doing damage, Kershaw has embraced the "win-at-all-costs" tone that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has clearly set.
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Leadership like that is imperative during a World Series run and Kershaw is learning that vindication comes quickly in the postseason, but the highs and lows are like a bungee jump.
Before last night’s return to dominance, the math wasn’t adding up for Kershaw. The failures of past Octobers had to be wearing on his mind. This autumn it seems that the man in the mirror equals the man on the mound and Kershaw is engaged, confident and he’s out of his own head.
He’s got the groove in his heart and he’s overcoming his past playoff demons.
Opposing batters beware.