LOS ANGELES – Clayton Kershaw's supporters and detractors saw him take the ball a 24th time for a postseason start Sunday night, saw him give up big home runs and also pitch well only to see his team eliminated, giving both sides a chance to see what they want within his 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the World Series.
Take a good look, though, because the window has opened to something a bit harder to comprehend: Kershaw, wearing a uniform that does not have Dodgers on the front.
Kershaw has three days to determine whether he will opt out of the final two seasons of a seven-year, $215 million deal, a short window for he and the club to hammer out a possible extension, or back away from the table, or perhaps engage in a game of chicken.
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There will be talk of extensions and perhaps vesting options or injury protections and other contract minutiae, but only Kershaw knows what his teammates and fans are wondering: Does the Dallas-area native want to be back?
Is his Sisyphus-like quest for a championship in L.A. providing him greater fuel to get it done here, or is it time to chase a ring somewhere else?
Heck, perhaps even Kershaw hasn't figured all that out, himself.
"I've got three days now to think about all that stuff before anything happens," he said of the recently-confirmed window to inform the Dodgers if he'll opt out of his deal. "And so it will be an eventful three days for me, and I'll try to figure it out."
Naturally, Kershaw's future doesn't have to be fully decided in 72 hours, and perhaps neither side is prepared to so quickly tack on years to his contract – or sweeten the $70 million he's due over the next two seasons. But even if there's an understanding among the sides in the absence of a deal, funny things can happen when a player wanders into free agency.
And it's all very new for Kershaw, who has been a Dodger since they selected him seventh overall in 2006, and signed him to the biggest extension ever for a pitcher in January 2014, just before he reported for his walk year.
"Business is business," Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said. "He just has to see what’s good for his family, and where he wants to be. To me, I respect how he goes about his business and hopefully, for me, from my standpoint, he will be here next year."
Said shortstop Manny Machado, a free agent himself this winter: "His whole legacy has been Dodgers. But it’s a decision he needs to make this off-season, for him and his family."
His final start of 2018 turned sour just moments after the first pitch. With one out in the first inning, he hung an 0-2 slider to Andrew Benintendi, who singled. Kershaw then piped a fastball to Steve Pearce, whose swing vaulted him to World Series MVP honors.
He deposited the pitch deep into the left field bleachers, the Red Sox had a 2-0 lead and the groans of Dodger fans familiar with this ending were barely drowned out by the cheers of the many Red Sox fans among the crowd of 54,367.
Then, Good Kershaw reappeared: He retired the next nine Red Sox and 13 of the next 14, the lone hit wiped out by a double play grounder. Yet, the Dodgers couldn't muster more than a solo home run off David Price, and a taxed Dodger bullpen compelled manager Dave Roberts to keep rolling Kershaw out to the mound.
Eventually, solo home runs from Mookie Betts in the sixth and J.D. Martinez in the seventh stretched the lead to 4-1.
"Sometimes," said Kershaw, you just wish they'd find a gap or find a single or something like that. And they went over the fence tonight."
He took two of the losses in this Series, and his ERA in elimination game starts actually dropped to 6.06. Kershaw's good-start, bad-start playoff rhythm has become a cruel drill for Dodgers fans.
The alternative could be even more sour.
"People need to be grateful to see a pitcher like that in their generation," Jansen said of Kershaw, who turns 31 in March and has three Cy Young Awards to his credit. "You might not see one for a while. He might go down as one of the best lefties to ever play this game.
:Yes, we struggled, you can say whatever, but still, I’m proud of Kersh. I’m proud of how he competes. Like I say, sometimes, it doesn’t go your way. I know Kersh will motivate himself to try to get back on that stage next year."
The clock has started ticking on which uniform he might wear in that effort.
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