The finale of the Washington Nationals – Dodgers series Thursday painted a graphic picture of why some teams (and some players) are winners while others play with entitlement and call themselves major leaguers.
I don’t know if the Los Angeles Dodgers will move on now and win the National League championship series with the Cubs, and ultimately the World Series. That’s a lot of baseball yet to play.
But there’s no arguing that the performance of pitcher Clayton Kershaw in the ninth inning of Thursday night’s 4-3 finale win over the Washington Nationals was graphic evidence about why some teams NEVER get an opportunity to play for championship titles.
Kershaw, on one day’s rest after throwing 110 pitches in Game 4 as the Dodgers’ starter, came on in the ninth inning Thursday to record the final two outs, the save, and jerk victory from the jaws of a possible devastating defeat. Ironically, the pitcher he replaced was the Dodgers’ normal closer, Kenley Janson, who manager Dave Roberts brought on in the 7th to quell a two-run inning by the Nationals, who had cut a 4-1 deficit to 4-3.
But more ironic, Clayton Kershaw is probably the most guarded pitching commodity in baseball, the game’s best starting pitcher, one of its three highest-paid pitchers, and the essence of an athlete whose future you don’t take chances with. He pitches, and then he sits until its his turn to pitch again five days later.
Except this time there was not guarantee of there being another five days. It was either win, or go home.
Kershaw went to Roberts and made himself available. He wanted the ball, He wanted to win. He was willing to sacrifice his future for the future of his team…and a championship.
I write this in comparison to about 25 other teams in baseball, including the Cincinnati Reds, who don’t have a Clayton Kershaw…and if they did I seriously question if the management of that team would take the risk of letting him pitch when their season, and the chance for a title, is on the line in the manner that Kershaw did. I question whether there are that many players in baseball so competitive as to put their team’s fortunes above their own.
This was obviously something the Dodgers’ management, from the front office down, had discussed prior to Thursday’s game, and certainly an out-of-the box departure from the day-to-day logic that dictates the handling of pitchers in major leagues baseball. You just don’t mess with the health and future of Cy Young Award winners and future hall of famers. Except the Dodgers, and Kershaw, were willing to roll the dice for the sake of…winning!
And is this not the essence of so many high school teams, and players, who love to play and love to win? Players who go to their coach on a given day and tell them, “Put me in Coach…I can pitch.” But that all goes by the boards when those players get to the professional level of the sport, with agents, contracts, and millions of dollars at stake.
And actually, I do see the genesis of it in amateur baseball in the form of outstanding players who play for select travel teams, pitch once a week, and consider themselves done until it’s their turn to pitch again next week. Many of these players are recruited by top college programs and take that same entitled attitude with them to campus. They pitch on Friday and consider themselves done until they’re asked to pitch next Friday. In the meantime, if they’re asked to pitch an inning in relief on Sunday following their Friday start they’re mentally unprepared, and totally ineffective. And worse, the ever-supportive parent is there to assure them, “It’s not your fault, son. You did your job on Friday.”
Again, I doubt if what Clayton Kershaw did Thursday changes the thinking of how the White Sox use Chris Sale, or how the Nationals use Stephen Strasburg…if and when he’s healthy enough to pitch again.
But for one game, one night, and possibly that one time in modern history when a player and an organization is willing to roll the dice…wasn’t it nice to see the selfless zeal of the game’s best pitcher who proved WHY he is the game’s best pitcher? The difference between “is” and “wannabe”?
And don’t you wish your team, your company, or your organization (whatever it is) had one just like him?