It doesn’t get much better than Stephen Strasburg vs. Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs. The two superstar pitchers will take the mound Friday night in Los Angeles, as Kershaw’s Dodgers (106-56) host Strasburg’s Nationals (93-69) in Game 2 of the NLDS. L.A. won Game 1 on Thursday, 6-0.
Kershaw, 31, posted a 16-5 record on the season, which he finished with a 3.03 ERA and 189 strikeouts. The eight-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young winner has helped the Dodgers to the World Series each of the past two seasons, but L.A. is still looking for its first championship since 1988.
Strasburg, also 31, finished a career-best 18-6 on the year with a 3.32 ERA and 251 strikeouts. The three-time All-Star has helped the Nationals into the postseason five of the past eight years, but they’ve never made it past the divisional series. The announcement of Strasburg as Game 2’s starter came as a surprise to many, considering he pitched three innings of relief in Tuesday’s wild-card victory over Milwaukee, and he’s never made a start on three days of rest in his 10-year career.
The Nationals hope to steal a game on the road before the five-game series moves to Washington, while the Dodgers aim to keep home-field advantage en route to what they expect to be another World Series appearance.
But while Kershaw and Strasburg will be opponents Friday night, they’re teammates off the field as big supporters the fight to end modern slavery. Both pitchers work closely with International Justice Mission, an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to both raising awareness of trafficking and actively freeing those trapped in it. IJM sets its foundation on Biblical principles, saying, “We’re inspired by God’s call to love all people and seek justice.”
While @stras37 and @ClaytonKersh22 are #postseason competitors during @mlb playoffs, off the field, they're fighting together to #endslavery and send relief to people trapped in violence. Learn more about #TeamFreedom: https://t.co/KHyFAPziGX #NLDS pic.twitter.com/MyYrNpdt0s
— Intl Justice Mission (@IJM) October 3, 2019
During the last offseason, Kershaw traveled with his wife, Ellen, to the Dominican Republic with IJM, as documented by ESPN. They met with D.R. President Danilo Medina to advocate for a strong partnership between the country and IJM, and Clayton also went undercover in Boca Chica, a notorious hotbed of trafficking and prostitution in Santo Domingo.
Kershaw was connected with IJM through former major leaguer Adam LaRoche, who joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast in 2017 along with IJM CEO and Founder Gary Haugen to bring awareness to human trafficking and sex slavery. LaRoche also connected Strasburg with IJM after being a teammate of Strasburg’s for four years on the Nationals.
After starting to work with IJM in 2015, Strasburg in 2018 became the Nats’ official ambassador for Strike Out Slavery, an organization founded by L.A. Angels star Albert Pujols and his wife, Deidre. Strike Out Slavery’s mission is to educate baseball fans about modern-day slavery by partnering with MLB players and teams, as well as IJM and other international nongovernmental organizations.
“When my wife and I got involved with the International Justice Mission in 2015, I learned that human trafficking is an underreported and misunderstood social justice issue that affects my community,” Strasburg said during the press conference announcing his role as player ambassador, “and I’m proud to join my friends Albert and Deidre and Nationals fans in learning how to address modern-day slavery and recognizing courageous survivor ambassadors for telling their stories.”
— Strike Out Slavery (@Xoutslavery) November 13, 2018
Strasburg and the Nationals hosted an awareness festival before an August 2018 game, and Pujols and the Angels hosted the second-annual Strike Out Slavery Day in Anaheim in September 2018. This year, Strike Out Slavery events were held at Citi Field in New York, Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, and for the third time at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
“We are proud to support the work of IJM and are praying for the day that every person is living a life in freedom,” Strasburg says.