Every Sunday I play men’s league baseball (I promise there’s a point to this). It’s far from the best baseball you’ll ever see, but it’s competitive, it’s organized, and most of all, it’s fun. I enjoy it especially because I, as a 30-year-old, get to compete against guys who are younger, faster, and (at least in my head) more talented than myself.
The majority of our baseball careers flamed out after high school (like me), and the remaining majority after college. But what we all have in common is that none of us are quite ready to leave the diamond, or worse, play softball! (My point is coming, I swear).
Every once in a while, though, one team will bring in a ringer—someone just released from the minors, a guy off-season from indy ball, whatever the case—who is head and shoulders better than the next best player on the field. Usually, that player a pitcher. Always, the opposing team is wildly and predictably overmatched.
These games are few and far between, but it’s fun when it happens, as much as it is humbling. Baseball, after all, is a humbling game, regardless of level. And even the Rays, one of the best teams in the game’s highest level, can be humbled, and overmatched.
This appeared to be the case tonight as the Rays faced Dodger immortal Clayton Kershaw (There’s my point!). Maybe it wasn’t as bad as my eyes led me to believe, but, at least for the first six innings, this is what Kershaw’s performance reminded me of.
Granted, this isn’t quite the same Kershaw who put together six consecutive seasons of at least 6.0 fWAR from 2011-16. The Dodger pitcher has reinvented himself as injuries and age have led to diminished velocity:
As a result, his pitch mix has changed to feature equal parts four seam fastball and slider:
But even if this version of Kershaw is not quite the ringer-in-a-men’s-league-type equivalent he used to be, that doesn’t mean he isn’t still one of the best pitchers in baseball on any given night. Decline or not, he still possesses a skillset that the vast majority of major league pitchers would kill to have.
For the Rays, Hunter Wood and Jalen Beeks combined to pitch pretty well for the first six innings, overcoming some bad luck (including a bad misplay in the outfield in the first inning) to limit the damage to just three runs. A combined quality ‘start’ if you will. The wheels came off in the seventh, however, as the Dodgers added three more at Beeks’s expense.
Things did get interesting in the home half, as Kershaw finally looked human. The Rays offense strung together five straight hits—the first two off of Kershaw, one (quite literally) off of reliever Pedro Baez, and the last two off of Scott Alexander, to cut the deficit in half:
Kershaw’s final line: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
The surge proved to be too little too late, however. The Dodgers added one more in the 9th off of Rays lefty Adam Kolarek, and that would be the final.
As a result of tonight’s loss and another Yankee win, the Rays fall to two games back in the American League East.
Here’s what manager Kevin Cash had to say about the loss, as well as Kershaw’s performance:
Although things certainly look bleak at the present moment, it’s worth noting that the Rays are still 13-10 in their last 23 games.