SAN FRANCISCO -- Clayton Kershaw finally found the perfect cure for a lack of run support.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' left-hander, once again pitching without the luxury of even the slightest bit of breathing room, delivered his first complete game and first shutout in a 1-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants before 36,076 on Tuesday night at AT&T Park, a dominating four-hitter in which the Giants never got a runner past second base.
It was an especially sweet victory for the Dodgers, who no longer are in serious playoff contention but managed to throw at least a momentary wrench into the hated Giants' champagne dreams by taking the opener of the three-game series. But it was far sweeter for Kershaw, who wasn't really thinking much about the standings as he was quickly, efficiently and completely shutting down the Giants on just 111 pitches, 72 of them for strikes.
"Every fifth day, I'm just ready to pitch," Kershaw said. "Right now, we're a little ways back, but it's fun playing against a team that is still in this thing. That made this game important, which is good."
It was a historic moment for Kershaw personally, but it also provided a perfect illustration of just how far he has come in this, his third major league season. Plagued early in his career by high pitch counts and early exits, the new and improved Kershaw, still just 22 years old, was a strike-throwing machine against the famously aggressive Giants lineup.
Kershaw had only four strikeouts. More important, he had zero walks.
Both of those numbers were indicative of the fact Kershaw is now a pitcher who routinely pounds the strike zone, something he feels comfortable doing even against a free-swinging team like the Giants.
"From what I understand, he didn't pitch late in games because of pitch counts," said catcher Rod Barajas, who didn't join the Dodgers until they claimed him off waivers from the New York Mets on Aug. 22. "When he has good stuff and throws strikes, taking pitches is going to do you no good. I honestly think it helped that we didn't do too much at the plate, because he didn't sit for a long time in the dugout at all, for any inning. He was able to keep his rhythm and use that aggressiveness in his favor."
Kershaw (12-10) has now pitched 192 1/3 innings, virtually assuring that with three remaining starts, he will blow past his stated goal of reaching 200 for the first time in his career. In his previous big league seasons, he pitched 169 innings (including 61 1/3 in the minors) in 2008 and 171 in 2009.
But not all of that can be blamed on Kershaw and his early tendency toward walks and high pitch counts. A lot of it also was the result of management's desire to limit his innings early in his career to avoid any risk of injury to a pitcher whose potential is so high he is viewed as a cornerstone of the organization's future.
This time, there was no such hesitancy. Although de facto closer Hong-Chih Kuo was warming up in the bullpen in case Kershaw ran into trouble in the ninth, manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt never seriously considered making a change. Their commitment became clear when Kershaw was allowed to hit for himself in the eighth inning.
"We never even talked to him," Torre said.
The fourth-place Dodgers (72-73) remained 10 1/2 games behind the division-leading San Diego Padres in the National League West and knocked the second-place Giants into a 1 1/2-game deficit. The result notwithstanding, though, it was more of the same for the Dodgers' sputtering offense, which managed only an unearned run. In fact, the game might have gone on a while longer had Giants shortstop Juan Uribe not bobbled the ball on what would have been an easy force at second that would have ended the sixth inning and would have resulted in the Dodgers leaving the bases loaded.
The Dodgers have now scored one run in each of Kershaw's past three starts, during which Kershaw has given up a combined four runs and 14 hits over 22 innings and lost twice. Predictably, and to his credit, Kershaw never complained publicly, even though Torre made a point of complaining for him. But for one evening, at least, it didn't really matter. With Kershaw pitching the way he was, one run was all the Dodgers needed.
"They're an aggressive team, and they swung at a lot of pitches," Kershaw said. "That allowed me to get some quick outs, and that's really all there was to it."
By the numbers
2 -- wins for the Dodgers since 1966 in which they have gotten one hit or fewer, the other being a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on June 28, 2008, when the Dodgers didn't get any hits. This also was the first time in the modern era (1900-present) in which the Dodgers beat the Giants despite getting only one hit, but it wasn't the first time this season the Giants lost despite giving up one hit. That makes the Giants the third team since 1920 (the others were the 1965 Chicago Cubs and 1971 Kansas City Royals) to lose two games in the same season despite giving up only one hit, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
The Dodgers' low Single-A Great Lakes affiliate, which led all of minor league baseball with 90 regular-season wins, saw its title hopes dashed Tuesday night in a 6-1 loss to Lake County in the deciding game of their best-of-three, Midwest League Eastern Division playoff series. Left-hander Greg Wilborn, last year's 18th-round draft pick out of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, was touched for five runs and six hits and three walks over five innings. Rafael Ynoa, who had an outstanding postseason, had two hits for the Loons.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers' advanced Rookie-level Ogden affiliate also lost, 3-2 to Helena, in the opener of the best-of-three Pioneer League championship series. Right-hander Bret Montgomery, this year's 46th-round pick out of Cal State Dominguez Hills, started and gave up all three runs (two earned) and six hits over five innings.
The Raptors were held to three hits, two of them by Blake Dean, this year's eighth-round pick out of Louisiana State University.
Right-hander Vicente Padilla, who is unavailable with the same disc problem in his neck that landed him on the disabled list a few weeks ago, returned to Los Angeles and underwent an MRI exam that showed nothing different from an earlier MRI. Padilla is probably -- albeit not officially -- done for the season. Rookie John Ely will continue to take Padilla's spot in the rotation whenever the schedule calls for a fifth starter.
Quote of the day
"It is a strange feeling for me. In a lot of ways, it's relaxing, I hate to say. But we're in a position now that other clubs have been in the last couple years against us, where they're trying to impact the pennant race by playing havoc with the teams that are in it. That's our job now. Hopefully we'll play that way. I expect us to." -- Torre on the fact he will miss the playoffs as a manager for the first time since 1993 when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals. Because of a players' strike, there were no playoffs in 1994, and Torre was fired by the Cardinals midway through the 1995 season.
Torre then reached the playoffs in all 12 of his seasons at the helm of the New York Yankees and in each of his first two seasons with the Dodgers.
Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley (11-9, 3.65) has a 0.61 ERA in four starts against the Giants this season and a 2.73 in 19 career appearances against them. He also has a 2.19 ERA over his past 10 starts, during which he has held opposing batters to a .198 average. Giants right-hander Matt Cain (11-10, 3.19) has one victory in 16 career starts against the Dodgers, that coming on Aug. 1, when he shut them out on four hits over 7 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking one.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.