It’s one of the oldest cliches in baseball, which means it’s one of the oldest cliches in American society. But it happens to be true. Whatever happens in the previous game doesn’t really carry over. We just assign that after the fact when it fits to try and make sense of a game that rarely doesn’t make any sense. And certainly didn’t make any sense in the ninth inning of Game 4.
So whatever Clayton Kershaw’s rep might be, whatever the truth might be, it’s pretty handy to have the best pitcher of a generation going after your team threw away a World Series game, literally, in one of the most epic fashions this side of Bill Buckner and Bob Stanley.
Kershaw was good to very good, and gritted through a couple of innings where he wasn’t on top of his game. This is his best postseason run, with a 0.84 WHIP and a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five starts. Whether he’ll get credit for that will definitely depend on what the Dodgers do in the next game and the one after that, if it comes to it. Especially when Dave Roberts brings him in out of the pen in Game 7 in the third inning to throw 150 pitches.
It was also a bounce-back for Roberts, who finally managed like his job depended on it, which it does. He didn’t stick with Kershaw too long, and while he once again went to Dustin May well, thanks to everyone’s efforts in Game 4, there weren’t too many choices. When he got good work from May, he didn’t indulge and finally discovered that Victor Gonzalez is in fact alive and productive. He didn’t try to cajole Kenley Jansen through a third day in a row in a save spot, realizing that might be a burned ship. He got a pretty low-stress inning from Blake Treinen, and for the second time finds himself and the Dodgers one step away from the certification as the team of the era that they lack (even though they already are).
Maybe if you box in Roberts and limit his choices, he’ll make the right ones.
The big talking point of the game will be Manuel Margot’s attempted steal of home in the 4th. He was out by a fraction, and considering there were two outs and a lefty in Kevin Kiermaier facing Kershaw, and considering the jump he got, it was worth a shot. Perhaps if Kiermaier had stayed in the box and tried some sort of half-swing or bunt merely to distract Austin Barnes, they might have pulled it off.
What will really grate the baseball purists, and possibly Rays fans, was Willy Adames’ at-bat before that. One out, runners on first-and-third, and a run behind. The Dodgers were shifting for Adames, and with Max Muncy holding on Hunter Renfroe at first, the entire right side was a runway. Adames has a career .765 OPS. He’s hitting .145 in the postseason. Where exactly has he earned the right to try and yank everything, much less anything Kershaw is throwing, regardless of the situation? Punch the ball through the right side, anywhere through a 75-foot hole on the right side, and the game is tied.
This is where people get frustrated This is where strikeouts have dominated the game. Adames is overmatched by Kershaw, and has looked it in both Games 1 and 5. But the Rays have never asked him to handle the bat and simply direct the ball to the right side. And many other players are like him, so it’s not to single out Adames. They’re looking for a game-changing homer, or double. But what was more likely? That or the strikeout to put him out of his misery? There’s a time and place, and the Rays and Adames missed theirs. All the more galling when it was so gaping.
Dallas wasn’t the only site of ballsy coaching. In Arizona, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury decided to take three points off the board with less than three minutes to go that would have gotten the Cards within seven, after being given a first down via a Seahawks penalty. It was a two-possession game either way, and deciding to keep the ball would run more time off the clock. But getting the ball back with no timeouts and likely less than a minute to go, it’s far easier to get into FG territory than driving all the way. Kingsbury was awarded with overtime when the Seahawks stalled out on their drive, decided that defending the run was so 90s, and Zane Gonzalez booted the tying score.
Of course, no one gets out completely clean, as Kingsbury froze his own kicker in OT by letting the play clock run down and having to call timeout as Gonzalez was making what would have been the winning field goal. After the timeout, he missed the real one. Kingsbury got bailed out when Russell Wilson threw a pass...somewhere, that was easily picked off by Isaiah Simmons and Gonzalez got to run it back with a 48-yard game-winner.
Fortune favors the brave. That’s another cliche three days older than water. We call that symmetry folks. Why we’re the pros.