When Clayton Kershaw took the mound on Friday night, the typically regimented rotation of his world suddenly turned upside down.
Off the field, the 35-year-old was in an unusually intense spotlight, throwing himself amid the recent Dodgers Pride Night controversy after publicly disapproving of the team’s decision to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence – and pushing for the relaunch of the Christian Faith Club and Family Day – earlier in the week.
On the court, the three-time Cy Young Award winner wasn’t in a big space either.
May was one of the worst months of the southpaw’s career, when he posted a 5.55 ERA in five short starts (he only went past the fifth inning once). His command was also gone, resulting in a slew of walks and a barrage of questions about the pitcher’s unusual shape.
“No one expects more from himself than Clayton, and especially from the bar he has set for himself,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday afternoon, hours before the first pitch. “Leadership is what made him great. So to see three or four outings where the command hasn’t been what it is, I think it’s frustrating for him.
Still optimistic, however, Roberts then added a prediction.
“My bet,” he said, “is that it’s going to be cleaned up.”
Indeed, it was during the Dodgers’ 8-4 victory over the New York Yankees at Dodger Stadium.
While the offense provided an early boom, coming out on top for a six-run first inning against Luis Severino that looked more like batting practice, it was Kershaw who guided the club the rest of the night.
He pitched seven good innings, allowing just two runs on four hits.
He beat the zone, striking out nine batters and throwing just 31 balls on 96 pitches.
And he played more like himself, one who bolstered his already Hall of Fame-caliber credentials by winning National League Pitcher of the Month in April — before sliding through an inconsistent May.
Kershaw’s week began with some very scrutinized comments he made on Monday.
In an interview with The Times, Kershaw publicly explained his disagreement with honoring the sisters, saying he felt the drag group was “making fun of other people’s religions” through their satirical depictions of nuns and nuns. other Christian images.
Over the next four days, Kershaw’s comments drew backlash from some, but also made him one of many players and politicians who criticized the Dodgers’ decision to honor the group. of LGBTQ+ support at their Pride Night later this month.
Whatever impact that had on the pitcher before he left, however, it wasn’t obvious once he took the mound to a chorus of applause.
After giving up a single on his first pitch, Kershaw prompted a double play from Aaron Judge before retiring Anthony Rizzo on three straight strikes.
The offense allowed him to take a lead soon after.
Mookie Betts hit a first home run, one of his two long runs in a four-hit game. Max Muncy added a two-point blast. And at the end of the six-run, eight-hit, 11-hitter inning, Kershaw was able to go into cruise control for the rest of his rebound outing.
He gave up long solo homers to Josh Donaldson in second and Giancarlo Stanton in fourth. But he also gave up just one single and one walk in his last six innings.
He mixed his slider and curve ball well, inducing 13 strikes in total.
When he left the mound for the last time, a record crowd of 52,534 stood.
Kershaw’s trademark dominance had returned.
And the Dodgers could use more similar performances in the coming weeks.
The team is still starting two rookie pitchers in Michael Grove and Bobby Miller, who will start on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
That means Kershaw, in addition to right-hander Tony Gonsolin, will have to help carry the load in the short term — the same way he has for much of his career as a Dodgers ace.
“The guy [has] did it for so many years,” Roberts said. “He’s someone who, when he takes the mound, you expect to win.”
In May, such a statement was beginning to look false.
But on Friday, despite his recent struggles and self-made controversy, the former Kershaw returned.
Roberts confirmed Noah Syndergaard’s next start, despite the pitcher’s poor showing in his last two outings (11 earned runs in 11 total innings) and poor season numbers overall.
Roberts said the team had weighed its other options, considered Syndergaard’s season — his first with the club after signing a $13 million contract this offseason — and decided to stay with him for the time being.
“We’re just trying to keep betting on him,” Roberts said.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.