Even after a career in which he collected 200-hit seasons with the consistency of a world-reknown violinist in the Philharmonic Orchestra, there are haters who doubt Derek Jeter’s G.O.H.G. (Greatest of His Generation) label. They say he benefited from playing on strong Yankees teams for two decades and his power numbers don’t jump off the page. There were other shortstops in his era that produced gaudier numbers for a period. Some had iller gloves.
At the end of the day, the thing that separated Jeter from these guys and elevated him to the face of baseball, is the way he raised the level of his game when the stage was the brightest. In contrast, you see a guy like Clayton Kershaw totally obliterate the NL and cakewalk to what will be his third Cy Young Award.
Then the $215 million man takes the ball in Game 1 of the Dodgers National League Division series against the hardbody St. Louis Cardinals and flops.
You NEVER saw DJ implode.
The playoffs separate the pretenders from the champions. The guys who have balls the size of boulders and those that cower in their responsibilities during moments of huge consequence. The Dodgers have the star-studded lineup, the advantage of an unlimited payroll and the fanfare associated with being one of MLB’s flagship franchises. Same way the Yankees had it when Jeter was King.
The difference is you never saw Jeter flabbergasted and dejected, nearly pulling his hair out after imploding in a moment that justifies the accolades, tremendous wealth and iconic praise heaped upon him for regular season accomplishments.
One minute Kershaw had a comfortable 6-1 lead and it was business as usual. If you left the crib to make a run, by the time you returned, the Cardinals had rallied from down 6-2 with an eight-run seventh inning. You probably just reached the front step, when Matt Holiday’s three-run homer made it 10-6 and Kershaw was on the bench looking more like a suspect soldier than an ultimate warrior .
St. Louis is a playoff-tested squad that is relentless in these situations. Kershaw seemed to get rattled and totally blew his cool. He stopped mixing pitches and started trying to power fastballs past top notch MLB hitters. The end result was one of the greatest collapses by the game’s best pitcher in a playoff situation that I’ve ever seen,
DJ always saved his best for last. Kershaw needs to take a page out of Jeter’s book, “How To Become a Legend In Baseball.” It starts and ends with playoff success – something Jeter has in abundance and Kershaw’s been lacking in his postseason career. He breezes through 30 regular season starts with prolific numbers, but in his playoff career Kershaw is 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA and five homers allowed in 10 starts and just 45 innings pitched. He only gave up nine homers all year in 198.1 innings pitched. I hate to say it, but when those stakes are high he goes from Roger Clemens to Roger Rabbit.
Last season he made the same bitch move. He goes 16-9, has a 1.83 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 232 K’s, wins the Cy Young and finished second in the MVP voting. Then in the most crucial game of the year – the type of game when Jeter was guaranteed to help the Yankees at least stay close, and quite often was the reason his team won—Kershaw spit the bit. His mound marauder mentality turned to mush and the Cardinals thrashed him for seven runs to win the pennant in Game 6 of the NLCS. You can’t lay a bigger stinker than that. You especially can’t do it in the playoffs two years in a row for a team that is loaded and favored to win the whole ball of wax.
Maybe Kershaw is a choker, but he’s most definitely Matt Carpenter’s playoff joker. Carpenter started last year’s explosion with a double to cap an 11-pitch at-bat.
He finished off Kershaw in the seventh inning on Friday with another double, on the eighth pitch of his at-bat, to clear the bases and give the Cardinals a heart-cracking come from behind win.
It all unraveled so fast. Kershaw went 21-3 this season, with a 1.77 earned run average, and the fans chanted “M-V-P!” as he entered the bullpen for his pregame warm-ups. He was in command into the 7th and the floor fell out from under him.
I feel terrible,” said Kershaw, who tied a Dodgers record for runs allowed in a postseason game, with eight. “It’s an awful feeling, letting the team down. We were playing great, got a bunch of runs, and I couldn’t hold it.”
He should feel bad. The only silver lining is that Kershaw will live to pitch again and LA has the chance to play at least four more games this season.
However, you never heard Jeter talking that mess. He never let the team down. The immortals rarely do. The playoffs expose chinks in the temperament of MLB’s greatest of players and reveal which cats are truly built for primetime.
As Jeter proved, and now Kershaw continues to prove, it ain’t all about the numbers. It’s about seizing the moments that will forever define you to the average baseball fan. Playoff performance is the foundation of those memories.