Clayton Kershaw’s bullpen appearance last night was reminiscent of Randy Johnson’s in the movie Little Big League.
Do-or-die game. Ninth inning. Down one. Tying run on base. The home team’s best hitter strolls to the plate with the chance to be the hero. The away team counters with the most dominant starting pitcher of his generation in a rare bullpen appearance to preserve the lead. The latter prevails.
In Game 5 of the National League Division Series last night, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals reenacted that scene from Little Big League where Seattle Mariners pitcher Randy Johnson squared off against Minnesota Twins first baseman and fictional character Lou Collins. While the ending wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the movie – Ken Griffey Jr. robbed Collins of a walk-off home run – it was still a must-see, edge-of-the-seat moment.
With their season hanging in the balance, the Nationals trailed 4-3 with runners on first and second in the last of the ninth. Daniel Murphy, the guy who finished second in the batting title this year and has tormented Los Angeles over and over again these last two Octobers, was given the opportunity to send the Dodgers packing and further cement his postseason legacy. The only thing standing in the way of him and a clubhouse full of champagne happened to be a former MVP and three-time Cy Young Award winner.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called on Clayton Kershaw despite Murphy’s success against him in the past. Prior to the game, Roberts insisted he wouldn’t use his star pitcher in a bullpen role after he had just thrown 110 pitches two days before in an 11-strikeout effort, but Kershaw reportedly made a convincing plea to his manager that he was capable of pitching on one days rest. Roberts caved in.
This marked Kershaw’s first relief appearance since 2009 and set up a lefty-on-lefty matchup like the one between Johnson and Collins, and just like in the movie, the pitcher retired the hitter on a 1-0 high-and-tight fastball. The only difference was the way in which the out was recorded, as Kershaw allowed a harmless pop up on the infield instead of a heart-stopping fly ball to the wall.
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Kershaw proceeded to strike out Wilmer Difo five pitches later, securing the Dodgers’ trip to the NLCS while rewriting his postseason narrative.