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World Series 2020 — Clayton Kershaw repairs his playoff legacy with Game 5 win

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Cali Kershaw, 5, a nuclear bundle of energy, jitterbugged around the room, under the table and over it, side to side, everywhere space permitted. Her little brother Charley, 3, tried to keep up, to the point that their father, Clayton Kershaw, felt the need to offer a nudge/apology. “You guys are maniacs,” he said.

It was about 30 minutes after he had won Game 5 of the 116th World Series, his second victory in it, one that pushed the Los Angeles Dodgers to the brink of their first championship in more than three decades. His hair long, his beard ever ratty, his face still cherubic, his resolve hardened, he hadn’t pitched his finest, and that was OK. Afterward, Cali had told him she was proud of him, and that was plenty.

A guy sticks around long enough, and you see him become the man he’s meant to be. Kershaw is 32 years old, past his prime, more craftsman than conqueror. And although there’s an almost-irresistible instinct to measure our greatest athletes against what they once were, and to nevertheless hold that as the idea of what they should be, it always felt unfair. Because for every unicorn who stares down Father Time and wins, a hundred others learn the vagaries of age, of regression, of a clock that ticks endlessly, and they don’t.

The acceptance phase is the hardest, and it’s where Kershaw, he of the worst October reputation this side of the house that gives out Mounds on Halloween, lives today. He isn’t what he once was, and he doesn’t need to be, because what he is impelled the Dodgers to a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday night that left them one victory shy of their first championship since 1988 and him oh so close to getting sized for the ring that has eluded none of his pitching peers.

Here’s what Kershaw is: good enough, which is, when one is surrounded by the talent the Dodgers possess, good enough too. He is capable of excellence, and he is prone to failure, and he is usually closer to the former than the latter. He is not a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character: Kershaw and October Kershaw, transmogrifying into a fateful creature when the calendar turns. He is flawed, in need of careful handling, prone more to reliability than anything.

He is, in other words, a dad. And every October, it seems, reminds of that, because Kershaw is the sort of father who brings his kids up to the podium after good days. In 2017, when he still possessed the blessed arm that flung lightning bolts, Cali first sat alongside him at a postgame news conference. And in 2018, Charley joined them. Neither was anywhere to be seen in 2019, because Kershaw wouldn’t dare expose them to the frailty of baseball, which last year damn near broke him. He’d blown a lead, blown a series, and said: “Everything people say is true right now about the postseason.”

What they said was that he wasn’t meant for October, that he was a choker, that he didn’t have what it takes. No matter what he said, Kershaw never believed that. Nobody reaches the heights he has — three National League Cy Young awards, an MVP award, a regular-season career ERA of 2.43 — without the conviction of his ways. If there was some October bugaboo, be it mental or physical, it would not be impenetrable. He was a pitcher. And pitchers find their way.

This postseason has been his rejoinder. Altogether, 30 ⅔ innings, 23 hits, five walks and 37 strikeouts with a 2.93 ERA and four wins. In Game 5 of the World Series, 5 ⅔ innings, five hits, two runs, two walks and six strikeouts. Yeoman’s work for someone whose greatest attribute no longer is what his left arm can produce but the toil it takes to ensure it produces at its apex.

The appreciation cascaded through Globe Life Field on Sunday, with most of the 11,437 there wearing Dodger blue and bequeathing Kershaw something in what was presumably his last outing of 2020: a standing ovation. He had held the 3-0 lead the Dodgers spotted him. He worked around a rough third inning in which he yielded a pair of runs. He turned a first-and-third-with-no-outs mess in the fourth into a neat little escape act, securing the inning’s final out when he heard first baseman Max Muncy yell: “Step off!”

Behind Kershaw’s back, Rays outfielder Manny Margot had taken off on a dead sprint, the first attempted straight steal of home in a World Series game since Lonnie Smith in 1982. Kershaw fired the ball home, just in time for catcher Austin Barnes to swipe a tag inches before Margot’s fingers slid across the plate. In the fifth, Kershaw would break the all-time record for strikeouts in the postseason. Come the sixth, he had turned two pitches into two outs when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts ascended the dugout steps and walked toward the mound.

And what greeted him was fascinating: boos. Not just catcalls or hisses. Real, actual, loud boos, from all corners of the stadium. It was October, and Dodgers fans were livid that Clayton Kershaw was being taken out of a game. So were the Dodgers infielders. They asked Roberts to stick with Kershaw. He refused. They wanted to believe Kershaw was his best self. Roberts believed Kershaw had done plenty.

As he walked off the mound, the cheers began. They grew louder. A 5 ⅔-inning, two-run outing is not typically the thing of which ovations are made, and yet it is just as infrequently made of a fastball that sits in the 91 mph range, too. This was thanks not just for Game 5 but for caring enough to make Game 5 possible — for not bowing out of the weirdness that is pandemic baseball and not resigning himself to the story others wanted to write for him.

“It feels pretty good. It feels pretty good,” Kershaw said. “Anytime you can have success in the postseason, it just means so much. That is what you work for. That is what you play for this month. I know what the other end of that feels like, too. I will definitely take it when I can get it.”

Roberts’ retreat to the dugout brought on another wave of jeers, even though this had been the plan all along, a plan Kershaw had grown to understand, because age for him may have an inverse relationship with talent but it’s got a direct one with wisdom. Kershaw, ever a dogged competitor, always wants more. He simply has grown to accept that more isn’t always possible or right.

The fortunes of Roberts have been inextricably tied to Kershaw. They have shared some of their worst moments, and because of that, Roberts didn’t deviate from the plan for Kershaw to face between 21 and 24 batters. After his 22nd hitter, having thrown 85 pitches, 56 of them for strikes, most on a slider that had seen far better days, Kershaw turned the ball over to Dustin May, whose fastball registers 10 mph higher on the radar gun than Kershaw’s.

“He just grinded,” Roberts said. “He willed himself to that point. And I will say, it wasn’t his best stuff, but he found a way to get outs and I give him all the credit.”

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Joc Pederson and Max Muncy hit solo home runs, while Clayton Kershaw strikes out six batters in the Dodgers’ Game 5 win vs. the Rays.

For anyone who sees this as pedestrian because it isn’t up to some standard he himself long ago abandoned, consider: What Kershaw manages to do now, diminished, is still extraordinarily impressive. It’s just in a less obvious way. It’s a three-dimensional view of the pitcher — of where he is in time, what the reasonable expectations for that are, how he has evolved — in a world that gravitates toward the easiest evaluation, which is to digest numbers and spit them out absence of context.

This is no absolution of Kershaw. He has failed in October. He has blown games, series, seasons. In Game 5 of the 2017 World Series against Houston, his implosion may have cost the Dodgers a ring. In Game 5 of the 2018 World Series against Boston, he couldn’t stop the Red Sox’s coronation. In Game 5 of the 2020 World Series, though, the day after the Rays walked off the Dodgers in gut-shot fashion, Kershaw calmly salved wounds — his teammates’ day-old and his years-old.

Now, barring Roberts going off-script and calling upon Kershaw to pitch on short rest for the first time this season in a potential Game 7, it is up to the 27 other Dodgers to give Kershaw what he has done his best to give them. Never had he won two games in postseason series until he took Games 1 and 5 of this World Series. A victory in Game 6 on Tuesday or Game 7 on Wednesday would make take him off the list of three-time Cy Young winners without a championship. He’s the only one of 10. And of pitchers who have won at least four ERA titles but no World Series title. He’s one of 10 there, too. Likewise, 10 pitchers have won an MVP in the post-1961 expansion era, and Kershaw is the only without a ring.

Sometime in the next 72 hours, all of that can go away, and it would bring him back into that room, sitting at the table, speaking to a camera but really to the world. He’d tell them what it finally feels like to be a champion, how all of this was so worth it. And right there alongside him would be Cali and Charley, amped up like they’ve got a Red Bull IV, because their daddy, the one who has finally grown into what he’s meant to be, had made them proud.

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Los Angeles Angels add Jose Iglesias in deal with Baltimore Orioles

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Los Angeles Angels have acquired veteran shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Baltimore Orioles in a trade for minor league right-handers Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto.

The clubs announced the deal Wednesday.

Iglesias batted .373 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 39 games with the Orioles last season. He struggled with injuries, but posted the highest average in the majors among players with at least 100 plate appearances.

Baltimore exercised its $3.5 million option on Iglesias for 2021 last month. He is joining his fifth big league club after nine seasons spent with Boston, Detroit — where he made the All-Star team in 2015 — Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Iglesias’ arrival all but confirms the departure of Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who spent the past five seasons playing the position in Anaheim, California. Los Angeles also could move second baseman David Fletcher full-time to his original position at shortstop, although Iglesias has played only one career game at second base and 36 at third base, where the Angels have Anthony Rendon.

The Angels picked the 23-year-old Stallings in the fifth round of the 2019 draft. They signed the 19-year-old Pinto as an international free agent in May 2019.

Iglesias is the Angels’ second prominent pickup from Baltimore in two years. Last winter, Los Angeles swung a deal for right-hander Dylan Bundy, who went 6-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 11 mostly stellar starts for the Angels and finished ninth in the American League Cy Young Award voting.

The Angels also confirmed a major upheaval for their bullpen in new general manager Perry Minasian’s first offseason, announcing they did not tender contracts to five relievers from last season’s roster: left-hander Hoby Milner and right-handers Justin Anderson, Matt Andriese, Keynan Middleton and Hansel Robles. Los Angeles already waived right-hander Cam Bedrosian.

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Chicago Cubs non-tender 2016 World Series star Kyle Schwarber, making him a free agent

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs non-tendered 2016 World Series hero Kyle Schwarber on Wednesday, making him a free agent after six seasons with the team.

Schwarber, 27, was in his final year of arbitration, but the team let him go rather than pay him around $8-9 million next season.

Schwarber hit .230 with 121 home runs in 551 regular-season games, but he’ll be remembered for his playoff performances, during which he compiled a .981 OPS in 24 games.

He hit .412 in five games as the Cubs’ designated hitter in the 2016 World Series, which Chicago won in seven games over the Cleveland Indians. After missing all but two games of the 2016 regular season — and the ensuing playoff rounds — because of a knee injury, Schwarber came back to star in the World Series.

Manager Joe Maddon made him the Cubs’ leadoff hitter the following year, after Dexter Fowler left via free agency. Schwarber flopped in that role, hitting .190 with a .312 on-base percentage before spending time in the minors.

He rebounded in 2018 and 2019, hitting 64 home runs, but his shortened 2020 season didn’t go well. Schwarber hit just .188 with 11 home runs in 59 games.

Without fans in attendance at Wrigley Field, the Cubs say they lost between $125-140 million in 2020. Front-office and baseball operations staff were let go in a series of cost-cutting moves, and a reduction in payroll was on the agenda for the team this offseason — along with an offensive makeover. The core group of players who won the World Series in 2016 had collectively stalled at the plate.

Schwarber’s release is the first major sign of both the payroll and personnel turnover. And it is the first major decision under new team president Jed Hoyer’s watch, after Theo Epstein stepped down with a year left on his deal.

Schwarber was the Cubs’ first-round pick, fourth overall, in the 2014 draft after attending Indiana University.

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Atlanta Braves non-tender Adam Duvall

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The Atlanta Braves have non-tendered veteran outfielder Adam Duvall, sources told ESPN.

The 32-year-old Duvall, who is coming off a 16-homer season in 57 games for the Braves, is now a free agent.

Before a two-plus-year tenure with Atlanta, the former All-Star spent most of four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, including back-to-back, 30-home run campaigns in 2016 and 2017.

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