Eight Pictures of Clayton Kershaw by RJ McDaniel September 30, 2020 The comments will tell you that the victory is worthless. The division was bad. The Diamondbacks, the team they overtook, the team they just beat to win the title — bad. These guys, I mean, how long has it been since these guys won anything, since they got anywhere? Three years, four? Twenty? There are few fans in the dark stadium seats to see this victory, dappled in weird midday light. But the young closer, so dominant this season, retires the final batter, quick and easy, the final score set at 7-6. And then they, the visitors, pour out of the dugout, the fans who have traveled to see this happen beaming above them — running, hugging, jumping, all happiness gravitating around that spot on the field where the closer stands, even as the scowls come from the other dugout, the home team exiting, heads down and deflated. You have to slow it down, all the spinning celebration, to see him: the pitcher, one of the first blurry figures over the dugout fence, sprinting at full speed, there a moment and then gone into the grey-blue heart of the celebration. He is the best player on this team. He is the best pitcher in baseball. Right now, though, he is not a singular figure. You can make him out, but you have to squint. He is absorbed in the dynamism of joy. *** It took a few days longer than it did last year. But they are at home, the towering curves of the stands filled with people, all of them standing. The pitch — the ball, grounded into the infield — the twirl, the spin, the out recorded just in time, even though the stakes are so low, the score is 9-1, the celebration only waiting to happen. And the camera knows to focus on him this time, the first out of the dugout again. Like a kid: a broad, open-mouthed smile as the fireworks burst, as the foundations shake and the lights flash and everything spills into everything, all motion, all joy. He puts on his hat and grins for the cameras. What luck — to have a second chance! To be here, surrounded by people who love you! *** His face is the only thing you see. Even now, in the darkness, even with an eight-run cushion, he is still there, still pitching. He is starting to stand out of time. He has eviscerated them today, the rivals beaten last year to take the division, the rivals who went on to win the championship yet again as they sat at home, watching, the winter already descended. He’s held the champions to just one hit, a single, all the way back in the third inning. He’s struck out 13. It is his greatest season yet again, and he is baseball’s greatest pitcher, here on the final night of September. Alone, for a second, he stands, his arms in the air. Then it is over. Then he is surrounded, borne aloft by the elation of his teammates and the voices of 50,000 people. There’s no need to run in this time, not when he is already at the core of everything — the center around which this astonishing little world rotates. *** Can you believe it? It is the 10th inning, the final home game, the final game for their long-beloved broadcaster, the man who hasn’t hit a home run for two years up to the plate. Can you believe it? The bat makes contact, and the ball rises, falls, and then you can’t see it anymore because everyone and everything else has risen, too, the voices and the light in the afternoon sky — all pain of failure, forgotten. Even after three years, there is still disbelief. It is new every time. And there he is, though injury scarred his season: waiting for the man whose day it is today, almost flying under the infinite blue. *** The victory was planned, a long-foregone conclusion; the collapse, a smog through much of September, was not. Today — a breath of fresh air. A little subdued this time, the jumps a little less high, a little less motion. Most of them have been here before, and it was close. The knowledge, now, that the real battle, for a team that will go on to win 104 games before the season wraps, is ahead rather than behind. That victory will not mean the end of the struggle. This title is no longer achievement enough in itself. But tonight, at least, they can celebrate the rookie, a new record, a sigh of relief. The closer, no longer young, is surrounded by new faces, having closed it out again. Behind him is his old friend, a steadying hand on his back. They stand together. *** After the heartbreak, the collapse came early. That’s why they are here in the afternoon on a weekday, when everyone else is resting. They have a three-run lead, the effort of another rookie. The closer — who, in a few months, will have to undergo corrective heart surgery — stares down the final batter, ahead 0-2. When the pitch is a strike, he turns around, tugs at the shoulder of his jersey, like of course it was. They won: of course. The light is cold, and the shadow cuts the field, and they congregate, an amorphous, fist-bumping, one-arm-clamping line down its center. Everyone goes down the line; everyone is a part of slow, deliberate movement. They smile, temporarily unburdened. For a few days, there will be no more gauntlet to run. And with his sunglasses flipped up, the pitcher, who did not pitch today, moves among them, congratulating those who did — a flash, here and there, of a familiar face. *** Far away from home, facing a team that doesn’t care, and barely into September, the celebration now is quiet in the near-empty stadium. Almost no one around cares. Two years now they have lost in the World Series. This year, clearly the best team in the league, they are just waiting to get back there again. And with so much of the season left to play out before trouble will begin again, the gathering tonight exists mostly for the photo: a few greetings, and then a rush to change into the T-shirts, put on the hats, and get in their formation. When the pitcher finally appears, minutes into the video, all the commenters can do is point out the shape of his body. Not the best in baseball, this year; not even the best on the team. A human being, a man getting older. A face smiling in a photograph. *** As they gather for the photograph, everyone seems uncertain. Should the masks be on or off? How close, exactly, should they be? They are not the center of everything, the point around which everything is rotating, the nexus of all energy and joy. There is no everything. There is no one here. The words flash on the board, and the confetti lights fall: the eighth celebration in as many years, the only one that’s a private affair. And if this is the year, if this is finally the year, what will that look like? Every October is different. This is not mere difference. The continuity hasn’t been severed, but it has been altered. A tonal shift. A note in the scale bent wrong: a dissonance in the chord. The sound of unmitigated joy is, for now, a memory. They wander around, talking and hugging and congratulating each other, as the cameras pull away various people for interviews: new stars, the manager. Individual voices float over each other, a soft, strange chorus of distance. The foundations of the stadium will rest quietly tonight. And you can see, there, for a moment, as the camera passes over him: His mask hanging off one ear, the pitcher, still here, stands with his teammates. The smile, at least, is the same.