LOS ANGELES -- No matter how much we learn about statistical analysis, no matter how educated we get on sample sizes, no matter how much we try to embrace logic, sports will always be governed by one eight-letter word: ringzzzz.
That's how we end up doing something as spectacularly stupid as doubting Clayton Kershaw. It doesn't matter that once you adjust for park and league effects, today's lefty-of-the-gods is better than the immortal southpaw who trod the same mound at Chavez Ravine more than 50 years ago. What matters is that when the stakes have been highest, the already extraordinary Koufax turned into Superman, while pre-2017 Kershaw often struggled at the worst possible time.
We're three games away from ending the preposterous Kershaw-the-playoff-disappointment narrative forever. The Dodgers ace buried the Cubs with six one-run innings in Game 5 of the NLCS. Then in Game 1 of the World Series, he performed like the entity that he truly is: a transcendent pitcher who will go down as one of the five greatest ever to play the game.
We're spectacularly lucky to have two research monsters on call during this postseason: CBS Sports Director of Research John Fisher, and Nick Pollack, the pitching-obsessed genius behind the indispensable website PitcherList.com. I hit up both to break down Kershaw's three-hit, one-run, no-walk, seven-inning, 83-pitch masterpiece. Let's tell the story through each of Kershaw's 11 strikeouts.
#1 -- Slider to George Springer
Poor, poor George Springer. Kershaw was at his nastiest Tuesday night, and Springer was his primary victim, striking out three times in three at-bats for the hat trick. First-pitch swinging, Springer could do no more than foul off Kershaw's first offering, a fastball. Kershaw then broke off his deliciously slow curve, a knee-buckler that moved the count to 0-2. Then, just to completely torment Springer, Kershaw went to a third offering on his 1-2 pitch: His devastating slider, a pitch he had never thrown off a mound in his life before a random bullpen session in 2009. The pitch burrowed under Springer's bat for a vicious swinging third strike.
#2 -- Fastball to Yuli Gurriel
As Pollack notes, the pitch you don't see here is the 1-2 offering that looked exactly like Kershaw's strikeout pitch, except that it turned into a slider halfway to the plate and disappeared beneath the zone for strike two. With that slider of death fresh in his mind, Gurriel laid off the next offering ... only for the ball to slap Austin Barnes' mitt for an easy called strike three. Kershaw's hesitation delivery, combined with his uncanny ability to disguise the identity of the pitch he's throwing until the very last second, make him nearly impossible to hit when he's on his game.
#3 -- Curveball to Marwin Gonzalez
All but 12 of Kershaw's 83 pitches were fastballs and sliders, because apparently it was Randy Johnson Lookalike Night at Dodger Stadium. So when Kershaw broke that pattern to throw his big, looping Uncle Charlie, the oooohs and aaaahs rang out throughout the ballpark. Kershaw put Gonzalez in the spin cycle, working fastballs and sliders for the entire at-bat, only to drop a 75-mph curve from the heavens into the zone for a cruel called strike three.
#4 -- Fastball to Dallas Keuchel
Kershaw knows better than to screw around with finesse when the opposing pitcher comes to bat. Facing Dallas Keuchel, he fired five consecutive heaters, ringing up the strikeout on a high heater that Keuchel fouled off. This was a straight-up GTFOH punchout.
#5 -- Slider to George Springer
Oh, you think you can pick up on patterns when Kershaw's on the mound? Hilarious.
After firing a first-pitch fastball by Springer to start the game, Kershaw slidered thim into a huge whiff to get ahead 0-1. He then painted the inside corner with a perfectly-placed slider. On 0-2, Kershaw went out of the zone, burying a slider that completely flummoxed the Astros leadoff hitter. Total filth.
#6 -- Slider to Jose Altuve
A rare time when we can fault umpire error for a KKKKKKKKKKKershaw K. Working carefully to the dangerous Altuve, Kershaw aimed for the edges of the zone, running the count to 3-2. The second pitch of the at-bat had been called a ball ... and Altuve justifiably freaked out when Kershaw's 3-2 slider at the same height was somehow called strike three.
#7 -- Curveball to Carlos Correa
Here's a new strategy to try against Kershaw: Don't swing! Correa gave that approach a go here, seeing three pitches: a curve, a slider, and another curve, without swinging at any of them. The knockout pitch evoked memories of a 19-year-old Kershaw, wearing the telltale rookie number 96 in spring training, unleashing a rainbow yakker that the legendary Vin Scully called "Public Enemy Number One." Chuck D would've been proud of this one.
#8 -- Slider to Yuli Gurriel
Mr. Pollack, take it away:
"What you aren't seeing here is Kershaw missing badly with a fastball in the previous pitch, but it worked in his favor as Gurriel fouling off the pitch that ended in the middle but well above the zone. With Gurriel's eye level up near his chest and timed at his heater, Kershaw went with a slider that traveled a bit slower and dove below Gurriel's knees. Gurriel saw fastball early and didn't have a chance to make such a major adjustment as he gave a weak swing-and-a-miss."
#9 -- Fastball to Josh Reddick
Even on his best night, no pitcher is going to hit his spot every time. Kershaw certainly didn't with this whiff of Reddick. He started the Astros right fielder with a surgical low-and-outside-corner fastball at 93 mph for strike one. The next pitch was further outside, and off the plate ... but Kershaw got a generous call for strike two. Barnes set up outside on the third pitch, anticipating a third straight pellet to that part of the plate. But throwing from a lower arm angle, Kershaw missed worse than he had all night, with the pitch somehow clipping the inside corner instead. Everyone involved looked on confused, including Reddick, who grimaced as a 94-mph heater froze him for strike three.
#10 -- Fastball to Dallas Keuchel
Here's something funny: Keuchel somehow wrung 10 pitches out of Kershaw in his two at-bats. Kershaw missed location on each of his five pitches in this sixth-inning matchup. Not that it mattered. On a 2-2 count, Kershaw simply fired a fastball right down Main Street, knowing Kershaw wasn't going to do anything with it. In so doing, he recorded the fifth 10-strikeout game of his postseason career.
#11 -- Slider to George Springer
Give Springer credit for trying anyway. He fought off a 2-2 slider, then resisted a curveball that missed the zone. The final pitch was irresistible, though. It looked like a fastball out of Kershaw's hand, only to drop to subterranean levels.
GIF aside, here's actual video footage of Kershaw's treatment of Springer on this night:
Kershaw's 11 K's tied the all-time World Series record for most strikeouts in a game without a walk. Only three other pitchers have ever totaled 10-plus strikeouts with no walks in a World series game ... and one of those happened in the first EVER World Series game in 1903.
Most strikeouts without a walk in a single game in World Series history:
2017 - Game 1
1949 - Game 1
2009 - Game 1
1903 - Game 1
Other facts and highlights:
- 10 of Kershaw's 11 K's came on pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or below.
- Six of his 11 K's were looking.
- Five of his 11 K's came on pitches out of the strike zone.
- Five of his 11 K's came on four pitches or fewer.
- He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of 24 batters (71 percent).
- He faced 24 batters and struck out 11 of them (46 percent).
- He had only two(!!!!!) three-ball counts all night, and struck both those batters out.
- Despite getting 11 of his 21 outs via strikeout, he still had six plate appearances end in two pitches or fewer.
We're three Dodgers victories away from Kershaw ending his run as the Lord of the Ringless. And if along the way he gets another chance to pitch in this series and performs like he did in Game 1, we can finally, officially, forever blast Kershaw's Rockedtober reputation into the sun, where it belongs.