He lowered his head. He slumped his shoulders. He slowed his steps.
He kept the baseball.
When Clayton Kershaw trudged off the mound in the second inning Friday with left forearm discomfort, it could have been just another painful chapter in the recent saga of a Hall of Fame Dodger in physical decline.
Or it could have been goodbye.
It felt like a little of both after Kershaw was pulled from a battering by the Milwaukee Brewers before the Dodgers mounted a second stirring comeback in three days to steal an 8-6 victory.
With two days left in the regular season, the Dodgers’ National League West division title hopes are still barely, improbably alive.
Kershaw, however, might be done.
Not only done for the postseason, but also done as a Dodger.
Kershaw is a free agent after this season and has given no hints about his future, preferring to let his pitching do his talking, and on Friday it was supposed to roar. He was supposed to end his regular season here in glory, his 100th Dodger Stadium victory, a reminder of the massive impact he has had on the team for 13 years, a precursor to a second consecutive October confirmation of greatness.
Instead, after being escorted from the mound by Roberts barely 30 minutes into the game as stunned fans slowly stood and cheered, Kershaw ended his season sitting alone on the dugout bench, hunched over, staring at the messy ground.
He missed more than two months this summer with a similar injury. He knew what this meant. He knew it wasn’t good.
If this really was his Dodgers farewell, it was as unfair as it was ugly.
“It’s a tough blow, obviously,” Kershaw said quietly afterward. “Just felt something there in my elbow, forearm. Kind of the same thing I’ve been dealing with. Just got bad enough to where I couldn’t keep going tonight … haven’t quite wrapped my head around all that yet.”
One thing he understands is that he will likely miss the postseason, and that clearly pains him even more than the elbow.
“The biggest thing was I wanted to be a part of this team going through October, this team is special, you saw what this team is capable of doing tonight,” he said. “I’ve known that, and I wanted to be a part of that. That’s the hardest part for me right now, just knowing that chances are, it’s not looking great for October right now.”
He addressed his future as he has addressed it before. Meaning, he didn’t address it all.
“I’ve said this before, my future is going take care of itself. I’m not really worried about that right now,” he said. “I really wanted to be a part of the moment right now … as far as anything else goes, I haven’t wrapped my head around it, and I don’t plan to anytime soon.”
If he’s not leaving, then why did he keep the baseball?
“I was just shocked,” he said. “I honestly had no idea I was holding on to the ball. I probably should have given it to Doc.”
Roberts, who had visited the mound with trainer Neil Rampe after Kershaw allowed three runs on five scalding hits amid several winces, also appeared numb.
“It was difficult, it was his last home start, you just don’t know what the future will predict, so I wanted it to be special for him and his family,” said Roberts. “It didn’t end the way we hoped.”
Watching Kershaw labor from the start Friday, Roberts knew something was wrong. Everyone knew something was wrong.
Even though Kershaw survived the first inning after giving up a bloop leadoff single to Kolten Wong, the Brewers were hitting the ball hard, and soon they were hitting it even harder.
In the second, Eduardo Escobar crushed a single to left, and Luis Urias did the same, then Lorenzo Cain smashed a ball down the third-base line for an RBI double. Omar Narvaez scored another run with a grounder, then Wong walloped a double to left field to score a third run.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, five of the 10 batters faced by Kershaw hit balls with an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. It is the first time since Statcast began keeping track in 2015 that half of the batters faced by Kershaw hit balls hard against him.
By then, Roberts had seen enough. With two out in the second, he trotted to the mound with Rampe and, after a brief consultation, the crowd’s worst fears were realized. Kershaw left the mound with Roberts, the pitcher’s head hanging as he was serenaded by fans who seemingly realized they might be watching him in a Dodgers uniform for the last time.
“In that Wong AB, I saw a couple of winces, and I don’t know if he wanted a strike call or was in pain,” said Roberts. “Saw it a couple more times and went out there, and he felt something, didn’t feel like he could continue … it doesn’t bode well … we’re not too optimistic right now.”
So what happens next?
Well, about a month from now, Kershaw will likely have a choice.
Does he accept the “statue contract” that the Dodgers will surely offer him? It would be a one- or two-year deal to ensure he retires as a Dodger, thus leading to the sculpting of a statue. The deal would be similar to the two-year deal the Lakers gave to an injured Kobe Bryant at the end of his career to facilitate his farewell tour.
Or, with nothing left to prove in Los Angeles, does he return to his beloved Dallas-area home to play with the Texas Rangers?
Or, if Friday’s arm injury is serious and requires surgery or a lengthy rehabilitation, does he just retire?
Some wonder if the competitive Kershaw would be happy remaining on a Dodger team where he is now the fourth-best starter. Even if he wasn’t injured, he might not be a lock to be a playoff starter this season, nor would he be guaranteed to make his annual opening day start next year.
Kershaw, 33, is no longer the Dodgers ace, and who knows how much that matters to him? He’s finally accomplished the one thing that had eluded him — a World Series championship — and who knows if that’s enough to allow him to close his Dodgers chapter?
These questions wouldn’t be necessary if Kershaw had been willing or able to work out an extension before now, but that hasn’t happened, and Kershaw hasn’t seemed willing to push for it.
Kershaw fans probably looked longingly at Friday’s news that the St. Louis Cardinals had reached agreement on a one-year extension with Adam Wainwright, their version of Kershaw and the scheduled starter in next week’s wild-card game, possibly against the Dodgers. The deal essentially makes Wainwright, 40, a Cardinal for life after spending 16 years there.
After the announcement Wainwright said, “I don’t want to be anywhere else. Who am I kidding?”
Clayton Kershaw has yet to say any such thing about the Dodgers. For now, his future here will remain as muddled as Friday night, when he lost his season but kept the baseball.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports