From a coldly tactical perspective, Clayton Kershaw had no good reason to be out there in the ninth inning Saturday night to put the kibosh on the Milwaukee Brewers' season. Yes, it was his bullpen day, but the veteran had thrown 98 pitches just three days earlier, and by that point, manager Dave Roberts pretty much knew the three-time Cy Young Award winner would have to start again Tuesday night at Fenway Park.
Sitting pretty with a four-run lead, Roberts could've asked Pedro Baez, the reliable right-hander, to get those last three outs and punch the Los Angeles Dodgers' ticket to the World Series. (Kenley Jansen had come in earlier than usual on this night, and was lifted for a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth.) Roberts also could've opted for left-hander Alex Wood, but clearly - given his club's striking inability to get the job done in big spots this year and its dubious postseason history - Roberts didn't want to take any chances.
So, he went with his best. He went with the best. And, frankly, it's hard to blame him, the additional strain of Kershaw's wonky back be damned.
Because in a National League Championship Series finale that illustrated all that's good about the Dodgers, who dusted the Brewers 5-1 in swagtastic fashion to secure their second straight pennant, Clayton Kershaw couldn't not pitch. After drudging through six largely uninspired contests against Milwaukee - giving credence to the notion that the Brewers actually made for a worthy adversary - the Dodgers snapped their funk in Game 7, excelling in every facet and offering a much-needed reminder that they're pretty damn good.
Kershaw, who produced another typically brilliant regular season and crafted a 2.50 ERA through his first three October starts, wasn't going to miss the party. Fittingly, he retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth, getting Travis Shaw to ground out before fanning Jesus Aguilar and Mike Moustakas, making the Dodgers the first team to earn successive World Series berths since the Kansas City Royals in 2015 and '16.
And the Game 7 party had been pretty lit to that point, too, complete with mammoth home runs (and ensuing pimp jobs), a cheeky bunt single, dynamite pitching from both Walker Buehler and the bullpen, arguably the defensive play of the year, and a preponderance of crotch chops. The Dodgers' performance throughout the first six contests had been decidedly Midwestern, but they turned in a Hollywood type of effort on Saturday night.
Now, one baseball game can't teach you anything, per se, but the Dodgers' pennant-clinching win very much reinforced some truths that had been obscured throughout the NLCS - chiefly that they rake, and that Buehler's a bona fide stud who, along with Kershaw, gives Los Angeles a one-two punch that rivals Chris Sale and David Price. Moreover, Saturday's win furthered the bend-but-don't-break vibe that Los Angeles has exemplified all year: Back on May 1, the Dodgers trailed the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks by nine games; heading into the final week of August, they sat 4 1/2 back of the division lead, yet they rallied to win it.
"This is a team that doesn't have ‘easy' in the playbook," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez on Saturday night. "We like to do things the hard way. But it's an extremely talented group, and one who's really, extremely focused on winning four more games and winning a World Series championship."
Friedman's right. It is an extremely talented group - one that should offer the Boston Red Sox a much greater challenge than the Brewers would. But if the Dodgers are to snap their 30-year World Series drought this season and avoid further cementing their reputation for October disappointment, they can't afford to play like they did for the majority of the NLCS. The Red Sox, who outmuscled two legitimate juggernauts en route to the pennant and haven't lost a road game this postseason, won't allow Los Angeles any margin for error.
"It's great for baseball," Roberts told reporters about the matchup with Boston, per ASAP Sports. "Two storied franchises going head to head. It's going to be a great series."
Indeed, that should be the case, but it's mostly incumbent on the Dodgers to make it so. And that means more efforts like the one they gave Saturday night in Milwaukee.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.