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Dodger Thoughts: The Trauma of Potential
Silly me – when I described the yin and yang of Clayton Kershaw in Arizona on Friday, somehow I left off the third rail. (Or maybe I included the first and third rails but left off the second.)
That middle option was Clayton Kershaw cruising before taking a bruising, as he did August 7 in what might have been the Dodgers’ last critical game of 2011, and as he did Friday by allowing five runs in the sixth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Diamondbacks.
Having retired 16 of his first 19 batters while striking out seven of them, Kershaw surrendered two singles, a triple and a double – and just like that, the Dodgers went from two ahead to two behind, and Kershaw was on his way to an early shower. It was the sixth time in 18 starts this season Kershaw had allowed at least three runs in an inning; of his 39 earned runs allowed in 2012, 20 of them have come in those six innings. His 2012 ERA not counting those moments is 1.46.
But any pitcher would look a lot better if you took away his worst moments. The point is, it happens to the best of 'em, a group Kershaw (who still has 50 strikeouts in his past 39 1/3 innings) certainly belongs to. What's interesting is, as elite a starter as he has been, whether he will again find that supreme level that followed last year's August loss in the desert. In his final nine starts of 2011 after that game, Kershaw had a 0.96 ERA with 64 strikeouts and nine walks in 65 2/3 innings.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers tantalized with comeback opportunities after Friday's disaster inning, putting eight runners on in the final three frames, but scoring only one of them. The game was an opportunity lost all around, with one primary saving grace: Vin Scully.
Scully talked early in the game about the struggles that Arizona outfielder Justin Upton has had, on the field as well as in his relationship with the team's fans, many of whom have turned against him. Even Arizona's ownership has questioned Upton in a manner recalling Dodger general manager Ned Colletti's April 2010 radio interview that delivered a backhanded slap to Matt Kemp.
Speaking of a player tagged with potential but who fails to live up to it, Scully remarked, "They blame the player, and not the judge." Scully shot a poetic arrow through the massive tendency to evaluate a ballplayer by what he isn't, rather than what he is, and to ignore the fact that these players aren't robots who can simply replicate their best performance day after day by flipping on a switch. It's a perspective that not only applies to Upton, but any number of Dodger players over the years, including tonight's starter in Arizona, the inconsistent Chad Billingsley. It even applies to Kershaw, who one year, whether it's 2012, 2022 or somewhere in between, will not be the force he once was.
Many of us have no doubt even become lost from time to time in judging ourselves on our failings, rather on our entire resume.
Of course you can be disappointed when a player doesn't meet the highest expectations. But just as there is a burden on the player to push to improve, there is a burden on the witness to accept when he can't. That's why there are five stages of grief, not four.
It's no different than when your team loses with your best pitcher on the mound. Your spirits fall, and then you make the best of the next day that you can.
Photo: Jon SooHoo/Los Angeles Dodgers