I hate to start here, but there’s really no choice. An old joke goes something like this — “people may occasionally say ‘I don’t like kids,’ but they almost never will say ‘I don’t like your kids.'”
And so it goes with Clayton Kershaw. I hear people say all the time how much they can’t stand the Dodgers. I never hear anyone say they don’t like Clayton Kershaw.
And that’s what made the future Hall of Fame left-hander’s latest October fail so painful to watch last night. The suffering was raw, real and right there, for all of us to witness, when the big lefty threw the two pitches that completely altered the trajectory of this year’s Major League Baseball playoffs. It was an utterly human moment that reminded me why baseball still remains our National Pastime.
Baseball players are (more or less) like the rest of us. They aren’t a foot taller or a hundred pounds of muscle heavier. They play a game most of us have played in one way, shape or form in our lifetime, with rules we understand, and strategy we can all opine on (or second-guess). And it’s that human element that makes those moments that occur on the biggest stages of October baseball so memorable and poignant for those of us who love this game.
The empathy I felt for Kershaw last night, watching him power through such agony from his seat on the bench, pained me deep inside. There was Kershaw, dealing with his epic failure in front of a national television audience. A failure that further cemented his legacy as a pitcher that doesn’t come through when the stakes are highest, and left him knowing that he’d let down his teammates when they needed him most. It pained me as a fellow human being.
Then watching him be his usual standup self in accepting the blame to the hordes of media following the Dodgers’ elimination, only increased my admiration. Best (regular season) left-handed pitcher of his time. Stellar man.
That feeling of connection to the vulnerable, human side of one of the game’s all-time greats got me thinking about other moments, thoughts and memories that make the month of October such a special time for baseball fans.
I don’t need an announcement from MLB to know that they’ve removed juiced balls from October play. All I need are my ears and eyes. I don’t even need an apology after the league made a mockery of so many cherished records that had been set over the last 100 years or so of the sport. But regardless of how angry I am over the sham of juiced balls this season, I’m glad they are gone now. Baseball like it oughta be.
On October 3rd, 1971, Bob Robertson captured my imagination as a young baseball fan. It was the first NLCS of my young life, and it seemed to me the Pirates first baseman would hit a home run every time he came to the plate for the rest of my days on the planet. Robertson homered three times in Game 2 of the NLCS against a loaded San Francisco Giants team (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds), and the Pirates were on their way to the first of their two World Series titles during the 1970’s (both over the Orioles in seven games, I might add). Bob Robertson — my first October legend.
What was it about role players stepping up to October glory in my formative years? On October 14th, 1972 (only a year after I’d decided Bob Robertson was the greatest slugger I’d ever see), Gene Tenace became the first player to homer in his first two World Series at bats, and the A’s were on way to launching a dynasty. Once again, it seemed to 7-year-old me that Tenace had to be the greatest home run hitter of all time.
The Oakland A’s, with their mustaches and bold, green and gold uniforms, became the first team to capture my imagination. Sure, by then I was already a Mets fan forever (which made the 1973 World Series a torturous time in my young life), but those A’s were just so cool. They’d take the Big Red Machine in a classic, seven-game series (without their best player, Reggie Jackson) in ’72, and go on to make their mark as the best team of the decade.
When did Pedro Martinez turn into the Stay-puffed Marshmallow Man? OMG — wardrobe, order up Mr. Martinez some bigger dress shirts stat! They’re going to cut off circulation to his head when he buttons that top button and ties his tie! Do something!
Leaving Kershaw in last night shouldn’t get Dave Roberts fired, but leaving Joe Kelly in sure should. I know 2019 Kenley Jansen wasn’t the lights out closer we’ve seen in years past, but letting Howie Kendrick go deep with the bags full and nobody out, while his closer sat in the pen waiting for the call was inexcusable. I’m half-surprised none of the Dodgers belted Roberts in the mouth when they returned to the bench following the top of the 10th.
Does anyone else feel like they are listening to Joe Girardi conducting a job interview when he calls one of these playoff games? I wouldn’t be surprised if before the game starts he scribbles “nice guy” and “relatable” on his palms to remind himself what he’s trying to prove to those clubs hiring out there. That being said, I hope he ends up in the Mets dugout in 2020. If he’s smart though, Girardi should give it a couple of weeks and wait for Roberts to be sent packing, because the Dodgers young talent figures to leave them contenders for years to come.
If the Rays somehow figure out Gerrit Cole and come back to win Game 5 in Houston (currently trailing 4-1 in the 7th), we may as well just hand the Yankees this year’s World Series title. I mean, an upset or two are always good fun, but leaving us Yankees-haters with the Nats and the Cardinals to choose from in the Senior Circuit simply isn’t fair. And if it’s the Rays against the Yanks in the ALCS? Fight at the back rack for New York. Ugh…when will it end?
My buddy Geno keeps saying how psyched he is to see a Verlander-Scherzer matchup in the World Series. I agree, because it would mean the Yankees just lost the ALCS.
Babe Ruth Day. Yes, I know this didn’t take place in October, but seeing the bigger-than-life slugger suited up in his pinstripes one last time, using a bat for a cane, tears me up every time. I may not like the Yankees, but the baseball fan in me knows they do baseball history better than anyone in the Bronx.
Yes, Lou Gehrig Day, too. SportsAttic will now resume Yankees-bashing for the remainder of the 2019 postseason.
The Astros pen may not cost them Game 5 against the Rays tonight, but it will cause their fans significant pain before this postseason concludes.
I was rooting hard for the 1988 Dodgers to get swept. Not only had Orel Hershiser and his gang of over-achievers stolen the NLCS out from under our far superior Mets team, it had become apparent that Kirk Gibson would exploit Darryl Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds splitting the New York MVP voters to steal that postseason award as well.
Then Gibson goes and hits that shocking, gimpy, walk-off against Dennis Eckersley, who’d been about as unhittable a reliever as we’d ever seen up until that inning.
Despite that, I challenge any baseball fan worth his salt to deny they’ve mimicked Gibby’s arm-pumping home run trot at least once in the 31 years since that ball cleared the fence.
How about a hand for Brian Anderson and Ron Darling? How hard must it have been for those two announcers to come up with nine innings of filler after the Cardinals put up their 10-spot on the Braves in the top of the first yesterday. It was painful to watch, but at least we could change the channel. Nice going, boys.
Is there anything more fun and flat out exhilarating than an elimination game in professional sports? And yes, this applies to all of the major sports, even though today’s post is on baseball. Anything can happen in an elimination game, tension is felt deep in the pit of our stomachs, and memories are waiting to be made.
Howard Ehmke is one of my favorite World Series heroes. Ehmke was a 35-year-old (which is like being a 50-year-old today, I think) pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, and started Game 1 of the 1929 World Series.
Ehmke had gone to Athletics’ manager Connie Mack in late-August (after only starting 11 games that season) and told Mack that he felt he had one more great start in his tired right arm. Mack believed the veteran, and told him to shut down his throwing for the entire month of September, and instead spend the time scouting the Athletics’ likely World Series opponent, the Chicago Cubs.
Even though Mack had Game 1 choices in his rotation, such as the future Hall of Famer and 300-game winner Lefty Grove, Mack chose to send Ehmke out for Game 1. The old man set a then-World Series record with 13 strikeouts (including Hall of Fame Cubbies Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby and Kiki Cuyler), while leading the A’s to a complete-game, 3-1 victory in front of 50,000+ hostile Cubs fans at Wrigley Field. The A’s would go on to win the series in five games.
Ninety years ago, folks, but we can still relate to a tired old man asking for the ball and one final shot at glory. And we can admire the manager who defied the odds and trusted his gut, believing in a guy who hadn’t thrown a pitch in over a month to start the most important game of the year.
Awesome. Baseball. Moment.
Here’s hoping that somewhere in our baseball future (let’s say October of 2023 or 2024), an aging and near-retirement Clayton Kershaw ambles into his managers office and asks for one final World Series start in Dodgers Blue. And rather than staff ace Walker Beuhler getting sent out for Game 1, we see the big lefty taking the hill for one last shot at October glory. Clayton Kershaw’s modern-day, Howard Ehmke moment.
We probably won’t see a complete game or 13 K’s from Kershaw on this future October evening, but how about six shutout innings full of 12-to-6 curve balls and low-90’s fastballs on the corners, leading his team to a Game 1 win? I don’t like the Dodgers, but I’ll sign up for that moment right now.
As bad as the Nationals pen has been this year, it will be the Cardinals bullpen that blows the NLCS for St. Louis. Carlos Martinez is a walking blown save right now, and I see him giving back two leads as the Nats move on to the franchise’s first World Series appearance.
Besides, at least the Washington starting rotation will give them a puncher’s chance should they end up facing the Bronx Bombers for all the marbles.
Memory and Moment
Yup, I had to close with Game 6, 1986. Easily my greatest sports memory, and it is hard to believe it was 33 years ago when the Mets overcame that two-run, 10th inning deficit to stage the greatest comeback in World Series history (sorry folks, not even accepting arguments on that statement).
When the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs and it became apparent we’d be playing a Game 7, the level of joy I felt is impossible to capture with mere words.
But if you are a sports fan, I don’t need to capture it for you. You have your own Mookie Wilson moment, and you know exactly what I’m talking about.