As more players speak out about the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, you can hear the frustration and collective anger not only with the Astros but how MLB has responded to it. For Clayton Kershaw, the one pitcher who arguably paid the biggest price in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, you hear a different tone.
Clayton Kershaw’s Hall of Fame career
Clayton Kershaw is unquestionably a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His statistics are eye-popping. Over the span of his 12-year career, he has a minuscule 2.44 ERA and a 169-74 won-loss record.
All of those numbers combined equal eight All-Star appearances, three Cy Young Awards (two runner-ups) and one MVP. While the individual awards are nice, he’s been an instrumental reason the Dodgers have appeared in the postseason eight of his 12 seasons including six NLCS and two World Series appearances.
Clayton Kershaw’s postseason history
Although Kershaw has been a top pitcher since his second season in 2009, the knock on the left-hander has always been his postseason performances and inability to win games when it mattered most.
His postseason struggles are well documented. The first signs of vulnerability came in the 2009 NLCS where Kershaw surrendered big hits to the Philadelphia Phillies in Games 1 and 5. Both blows essentially put the game out of reach for the Dodgers.
Kershaw suffered similar sub-par performances in the playoffs in six other seasons including the 2018 World Series and last year in the 2019 NLDS where the Dodgers lost to the eventual champion Washington Nationals.
Clayton Kershaw in 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros
Heading into the 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros, Kershaw appeared poised to overcome all of those demons. He entered the Series with a 2-0 postseason record including a six-inning, three-hit performance to close out the NLCS over the Chicago Cubs.
After tossing a three-hit, 11-strikeout gem over seven innings in Game 1 that resulted in a 3-1 Dodgers win and 1-0 Series lead, the Dodgers ace returned to the mound in a pivotal Game 5 matchup with the series tied 2-2 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Clayton Kershaw started strong tossing three perfect frames to start off the game and held a 4-0 lead heading into bottom of the fourth. Over the next two innings, Kershaw had flashbacks to postseasons past. The Astros offense roared to life knocking around the left-hander for six earned runs and knocking him out of the game.
How Astros cheating affected Kershaw in the 2017 World Series
In hindsight, with revelations the Astros cheated by stealing the other team’s signs using a center field camera and providing real-time information to the hitter, Clayton Kershaw’s Game 5 performance deserves a closer look.
What you discover is what Sports Illustrated baseball writer Tom Verducci recently reported. In those 4 2/3 innings, Kershaw delivered 50 off-speed pitches (curve or slider). The Astros bats never waved at a pitch. Not a single one. And on all the pitches the lefty is known for that ride inside on a right-handed batter, the Astros blasted down the left-field line foul or for base hits including a Yuli Gurriel three-run homer in the fourth.
Looking back on that game Kershaw said there were signs. Literally.
“If you don’t change your signs up every few pitches with a guy on second base, it’s on you. I just don’t want to have multiple signs with a guy on first base. That slows the game down. Slows the rhythm down. And I didn’t do that in Houston. I used one sign. And I should have known. They were using multiple signs all the time.Clayton Kershaw
Despite that game and the turning point it had on the Series and his career, Kershaw doesn’t want to what-if the game. He’s moved on and still loves the game that he’s dominated for the last decade.
“It’s still a great game. There are still some great players that are really fun to watch. And to the kids at home that are hearing all this stuff, it’s done with. It’s not going to happen anymore. This year will be fun.”