Clayton Kershaw cements his legacy with first World Series title

After 13 years of a Cooperstown-bound career, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally World Series champs.

The Commissioner’s Trophy, awarded every year to the World Series champion, weighs about 30 pounds of sterling silver. But for Clayton Kershaw, hoisting the trophy on Tuesday at Globe Life Field, 15 miles from where he grew up, was years of frustration being lifted off his shoulders.

Kershaw is a World Series champion. There were times over the years, especially the moments when Kershaw had his hands on his knees, bent down in despair after another crushing hit, that it seemed like it would never happen. His October failures even earned their own moniker: Playoff Kershaw.

Regular season Kershaw is an all-time great, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and the best pitcher of this generation. Since 2011, he leads all starters with a 2.24 ERA, more than .30 runs better than the next best active pitcher. His ERA in the 2010s was 2.31; no starting pitcher since the Dead Ball Era ever had a lower ERA over an entire decade.

Clayton Kershaw has finally shaken off the legacy of playoff disappointments

But in the postseason, Kershaw was never quite as sharp, never quite as dominant. His career ERA in the regular season is 2.43. That jumps to 4.19 in the postseason. Of the 10 pitchers to win three Cy Young Awards, all of them had at least one World Series ring. Except Kershaw.

The ghosts of playoffs past continued to dog him, until this year. He beat the Tampa Bay Rays twice in the World Series, the first time he’s ever won two games in a single series. In Game 5, a night after the Dodgers suffered a deflating loss with two outs in the ninth inning, he didn’t have his best stuff but gutted out 5.2 innings of two-run ball. He preserved a one-run lead in the fourth, holding the Rays off the board with runners at first and third with nobody out, retiring the final eight batters he faced. His strikeout of Kevin Kiermaier leading off the fifth inning moved him past Justin Verlander to become the postseason’s all-time leader.

The problem with the narrative that Kershaw wasn’t a big-game pitcher was it’s not exactly true. Apart from games against Houston and Boston in 2017 and 2018, respectively — two teams that may have had some artificial help — Kershaw is 6-3 with a 3.21 ERA in his last nine postseason starts. He was 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA in five starts this postseason, guiding the Dodgers to their first world title in 32 years. It’s not that Kershaw was disastrous in the postseason. He only failed to live up to his own lofty standards.

The core of the Dodgers lineup — Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner — are the same men who walked off the field two years in a row after losing the World Series. This was a validating win for them, as well, but the first thing they thought of after winning was what it all meant to their left-handed ace.

“I’m so happy for Kershaw. Literally couldn’t happen to a better person, better teammate. Just watching him celebrate made me a little teary-eyed,” Bellinger told Fox Sports during the post-game celebration.

“Now Kersh gets to go down as the best ever to be. The best ever to stand on that mound,” said Seager, the unanimous choice for series MVP.

Kershaw’s world title puts him in elite company. Last year, he passed another all-time great, Sandy Koufax, on the franchise’s career list in both wins and strikeouts. Koufax won three World Series trophies with the Dodgers. It was the one distinction he continued to hold over Kershaw.

Not anymore. Kershaw is no longer in Koufax’s shadow, nor in anyone else’s. His Hall of Fame legacy was already solidified even without a title. With one, he joins the pantheon of baseball’s immortals.

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