If it happened to hit Gerardo Parra(notes) – and maybe, even probably, that was his intention – then Kershaw might spend the next four innings watching baseball from the clubhouse, the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen pitching him toward his 19th win.
Justly or not, the game – and his continued participation in it – would belong to the wariest of umpires, in this case Bill Welke.
From first base 24 hours earlier, Welke no doubt observed Kershaw standing at the dugout rail appearing to threaten Parra, moments after the little left fielder and eight-hole hitter turned around a Hong-Chih Kuo(notes) fastball, watched it clear the fence and pimped it for every glorious inch.
The Dodgers didn't like it. Parra didn't much care, and neither did the Arizona Diamondbacks.
That left Kershaw, the baseball in his hand, a Cy Young Award within reach, pitching a one-hit shutout at Dodger Stadium, Parra waiting.
Presumably, Kershaw would have bigger things to pitch for than retribution. His club out of contention since Memorial Day, he led the National League in ERA, in strikeouts, and would pitch for a tie for the league lead (with Arizona's Ian Kennedy(notes)) in wins.
There would be other days, other shots at Parra, a different umpiring crew, when a single fastball to the hip would mean nothing to anyone but Kershaw and Parra.
Instead, when Parra led off the sixth, Kershaw came inside with a strike-one fastball that clipped Parra's right elbow. Welke threw Kershaw from the game, then ran Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who arrived plate-side apoplectic.
Kershaw pleaded. He stomped. He demanded the inside part of the plate. Welke, who had acted absurdly, did not budge. The boy wonder with the big fastball and vanishing slider, Kershaw flung his jacket over his shoulder and turned left toward the Dodgers clubhouse.
"You have to let me pitch!" he shouted toward the field as he went. "You have to let me pitch!"
On a mid-September night that hinted at a fall that won't ever come for the Dodgers, Kershaw had to know what he risked, that possibly being the Cy Young Award.
In a season in which .04 runs separate him from Roy Halladay(notes) in the ERA race and .14 runs separate him from Cliff Lee(notes), in which he leads Halladay now by a win and Lee by three and trails both in complete games, in which the top three or four candidates will decide the award in the coming two weeks, and in which the size of his home ballpark could be used against him in the balloting, Kershaw – and maybe, even probably, this was his intention – put his ballclub above whatever the next four innings would bring.
As well as he was pitching Wednesday night, there was little doubt they'd look a lot like the first five.
So Parra acted out the night before. So an over-officious Welke would not allow the two clubs to settle it up on the field. How do you think the San Francisco Giants, hanging by a thread in the NL West, saw it? How do you think the Dodgers, holding a 2-0 lead with none out in the sixth, and now with the opposing leadoff hitter on first base, saw it?
So Kershaw would not budge. He'd allowed a double on an outside fastball to Parra in the third inning. He would not go out there again, not without first backing Parra away from the plate. Hard. And if Parra got hit, well, all's fair. Maybe, even probably, it was supposed to hit Parra.
But Kershaw was going to pitch first and stand for his teammates, Kuo among them. That's how a 23-year-old with the face of a 14-year-old becomes a leader in an organization that is scattered and foundering, on a roster that needs work, in a clubhouse that wonders where the next hero is coming from.
Sure it was a risk. He had to know that. It might have cost him – them – a win. It might cost him a Cy Young vote or two.
"I really don't think Clayton's going to be concerned with all that," Mattingly said later. "He's gonna pitch."
Crew chief Tim Tschida stated, "It was intentional," and he concluded, "It was left over from last night."
Maybe so. And probably it was.
"No," Kershaw said. "I gotta pitch. I'm not worried about anything else but getting guys out. Whatever happened yesterday, it happened yesterday."
Either way, tomorrow looks better for it, for Kershaw and the Dodgers.
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