It's the middle of the playoffs, and Clayton Kershaw is still standing.
It's two games deep into the National League Championship Series and, to be exact, Kershaw is currently standing on the backs of the straining Chicago Cubs.
It's three wins from the World Series, and Kershaw has finally, officially obliterated three seasons of playoff troubles after powering and willing his pitches past the Cubs on Sunday in a 1-0 victory at Wrigley Field to even the NLCS at one game apiece.
"Best pitcher on the planet," said manager Dave Roberts.
He's been better than all that during a postseason in which the Dodgers have jumped on his large back and hung on for a ride that now takes them back to Dodger Stadium for three games next week.
"It's fun when you win, so yeah, I mean, I'm enjoying it right now," said Kershaw in words that, for him, equate to a justifiable scream of joy.
So far this postseason, Kershaw has pitched in four games and the Dodgers have won all four. He's not pitched in three games, and the Dodger have lost all three.
Beneath a scraggly beard and sweat-soaked hair, Kershaw carried the Dodgers through a seventh inning on Sunday that seemingly every autumn has stunned him like a snowstorm on Halloween.
Two postseasons ago, he struggled in the seventh inning twice against the Cardinals. Last season it happened once against the Mets. Then even this postseason, he tired in Game 4 against the Nationals.
Sunday it was all happening again, yet when folks look back at his completed work — seven innings, two hits, six strikeouts, zero runs — they will most celebrate that seventh inning.
With the Dodgers leading 1-0 on Adrian Gonzalez's second-inning homer, Kershaw began the inning by walking Anthony Rizzo on four pitches, the same Rizzo who had just two hits in the postseason.
Kenley Jansen was warming up in the bullpen, the Wrigley Field crowd was suddenly clamoring, and then Ben Zobrist lofted a high pop foul that dropped harmlessly behind home plate between catcher Yasmani Grandal and Gonzalez.
Goodness. Another bit of seventh-inning ridiculousness? Not this time. Kershaw took a huge breath and, two pitches later, struck out Zobrist looking on a 94-mph fastball.
"Just kind of kept going through it," said Kershaw.
Addison Russell then flied to left on the third pitch, bringing up the hot-hitting Javier Baez.
Sure enough, Roberts came to the mound to pull Kershaw for Jansen. And sure enough, Kershaw shooed him away.
"He said, 'We can get this guy, I can get this guy,' " said Roberts, who will soon be named NL manager of the year because he spent all summer making smart, gutsy moves.
Two pitches later, Kershaw kept his promise and got that guy, even if it was on a long fly ball that nearly reached the centerfield fence before being caught by Joc Pederson. The breathtaking shot left Kershaw staring, his hands on his knees, his head drooping at what he thought was certain defeat.
"I thought it was out, for sure," said Kershaw. "He hit it pretty good."
Not this night. Not this October. After Kershaw returned to the dugout, Rick Honeycutt heard him cough.
"I'm trying to get my throat out of my stomach," Kershaw said.
He can breathe much easier now and for the rest of the postseason. He has shown the world, and himself, that he can pitch big in the biggest games in October.
— Los Angeles Times (TNS)