NLDS Game 1: Clayton Kershaw exits after getting 1 out in worst start of 16-year career

Double. Single. Single. Double. Home run. 96.7 mph groundout. Walk. Double.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 07: Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers sits in the dugout after being relieved in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during Game One of the Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 07, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Clayton Kershaw fooled no one in Game 1 of the Diamondbacks-Dodgers NLDS. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Clayton Kershaw has had some bad postseason outings in his storied, 16-year Dodgers career. The worst arrived Saturday.

Facing the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the NLDS, Kershaw took the mound, didn't get an out until his sixth batter faced and was pulled after allowing one more RBI double to his eighth. The Dodgers called in rookie Emmet Sheehan to end the inning, but the damage was already done.

Kershaw exited with a line of 1/3 innings pitched, six hits allowed (four for extra bases), one walk and no strikeouts in 35 pitches. Dodger Stadium was audibly booing as he walked off.

He spent the rest of the inning sitting dejected in the Dodgers' dugout. The D-Backs won the game 11-2 to take a 1-0 lead in the NLDS.

Let's go through some jarring stats that came out of that first inning:

  • Kershaw allowed seven balls in play, and the softest hit was 96.7 mph, as measured by Statcast

  • It was the shortest start of Kershaw's career, regular season or postseason

  • Kershaw had previously never allowed six runs in a first inning

  • Only six pitchers in MLB postseason history had allowed more than six runs in a start of an inning or less

  • No pitcher in MLB postseason history, starter or reliever, had ever allowed five hits and five runs before recording an out (before Kershaw)

  • The D-backs tied the 1999 Atlanta Braves for the most plate appearances before an out in postseason history

You get the point. Arizona hit Kershaw harder than he had ever been hit in his career — and about as hard as anyone has been hit in the postseason.

Deserved or not, it can't be denied that Kershaw has a reputation for underperforming in the playoffs. He has faltered in big spots, yes, but he has also been repeatedly put in difficult positions by the Dodgers over the past decade, be it starts on short rest, between-starts relief appearances or needing to go deeper into games due to a weakened bullpen.

This was something different.

Kershaw has spent this season (and the past few) getting by with diminished velocity without it really affecting his basic numbers. He held a 2.46 ERA this season in 131 2/3 innings, but with his fastball averaging 90.2 mph. He saw no such success Saturday. The Diamondbacks just saw a pitcher throwing with the kind of velocity that has all but died out in today's game.

It seems unimaginable that Kershaw's Hall of Fame-bound career could end with the most brutal of shellackings, but it feels distinctly possible right now. Kershaw, a pending free agent, will be 36 years old by the beginning of next season, and he was facing retirement speculation even before Saturday. The Dodgers will apparently do their best to give him one more go this season, as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after the game he planned to start Kershaw in Game 4.

Likewise, Kershaw said he would be ready to start Game 4. If the Dodgers get there, which will require at least one win on Games 2 and 3, he'll be walking into a division rival's stadium with potentially the end of his Dodgers career at stake.