Clayton Kershaw shows he can pitch in October's big games

The haunting is over. The gloom has lifted.

It’s the middle of October on a Midwestern baseball field and a brilliant light has cut through a legacy of madness to descend upon a Dodger shedding an unsightly autumn skin.

It’s the middle of the playoffs, and Clayton Kershaw is still standing.

It’s two games deep into the National League Championship Series and, to be exact, Kershaw is currently standing on the backs of the straining Chicago Cubs.

It’s three wins from the World Series, and Kershaw has finally, officially obliterated three seasons of playoff troubles after powering and pushing and willing his pitches past the Cubs on Sunday in a 1-0 victory at Wrigley Field to even the NLCS at one game apiece.

“Best pitcher on the planet,” said Manager Dave Roberts.

“Best baseball player on the planet,” said Justin Turner.

He’s been better than all that during a postseason in which the Dodgers have jumped on his large back, placed their mostly ordinary arms around his thick neck, and hung on for a ride that now takes them back to Dodger Stadium for three games next week.

“It’s fun when you win, so yeah, I mean, I’m enjoying it right now,’’ said the understated Kershaw on Sunday evening in words that, for him, equate to a justifiable scream of joy.

So far this postseason, Kershaw has pitched in four games and the Dodgers have won all four games. He’s not pitched in three games, and the Dodger have lost all three games.

Oh, how he’s carried them, on full rest, on short rest and out of the bullpen. He’s carried them in Los Angeles when it started, in Washington when it nearly ended, and finally on Sunday on the North Side of Chicago through the one moment where he’s always stumbled.

Beneath a scraggly beard and sweat-soaked hair, Kershaw carried the Dodgers through a seventh inning that seemingly every autumn has stunned him like a snowstorm on Halloween.

Two postseasons ago he struggled in the seventh inning twice against the St. Louis Cardinals. Last season it happened once against the New York Mets. Then even this postseason, he tired in Game 4 against the Nationals.

Sunday night it was all happening again, yet when folks look back at his completed work — seven innings, two hits, six strikeouts, zero runs — they will most celebrate that seventh inning.

“Really just kind of couldn’t look up for a minute for air,” said Kershaw.

Well, the rest of us looked up, and here’s what we saw.

Ironically, Kershaw’s biggest setback this summer may have set him up for what is so far his greatest October. Because he missed more than two months with a back injury, he pitched only 149 innings this year after averaging 2221/3 innings in each of the previous three seasons.

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