LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw took a sudden left turn on the way to the National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday night. The Los Angeles Dodgers' left-hander should learn in fairly short order what it ends up costing him, both literally and figuratively.
With one out in the top of the sixth inning, in the midst of the kind of dominating performance that can create certainty in the mind of a Cy Young voter who might have been waffling, Kershaw threw a pitch that connected with the right elbow of Arizona Diamondbacks left fielder Gerardo Parra. Plate umpire Bill Welke, clearly believing this was carry-over from an incident involving Parra and an idle Kershaw during Tuesday's game, immediately ejected Kershaw, then ejected Dodgers manager Don Mattingly a couple of minutes after that.
Ultimately, the Dodgers would temporarily stave off elimination from the National League West race with a 3-2 victory over the Diamondbacks before 29,799 at Dodger Stadium. But that was incidental to the real story of this one.
We can argue all night and into tomorrow as to whether there was intent in Kershaw's pitch to Parra. Only Kershaw knows for sure. Predictably, he admitted to nothing, especially after Parra had broken up Kershaw's no-hit bit with an opposite-field double in his previous at-bat in the third inning.
"The first at-bat, I threw the ball away and he hit a double," Kershaw said. "The next at-bat, I have to pitch in. It's unfortunate. I understand [Welke] has a job to do, but at the same time, just pay attention to the game and understand what is going on a little better."
What we do know is that in the seventh inning of the previous night's game, Parra had dodged a pitch straight at his head from Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, who has battled control problems all season and even spent six weeks on the disabled list because of them.
Parra ended that at-bat with a tying homer he stood and admired for a strikingly long time. An agitated Kershaw, on the bench in a jacket, had reacted to Parra's showboating by climbing to the top step of the dugout and yelling at him, resulting in Diamondbacks third base coach Matt Williams approaching the dugout and exchanging words with Kershaw and others.
We also know this: Kershaw didn't hit Parra, or even throw at him, when Parra came to the plate for the first time Wednesday. Only after Kershaw had pitched the minimum five innings to qualify for his 19th victory of the season -- he had allowed only one baserunner to that point and had utterly dominated the Diamondbacks -- and the Dodgers had built a 2-0 lead did he plunk Parra. It may be circumstantial evidence, but it's still something.
"It was intentional," said Tim Tschida, the umpiring crew chief, who added that, "It was left over from last night."
Welke wasn't made available for comment. Although Tschida did acknowledge no official warning was issued either before or during the game in advance of Kershaw's ejection, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he did receive a call in the afternoon from Joe Torre, now in charge of on-field discipline for Major League Baseball, warning against any lingering shenanigans after the Tuesday incident, and the Diamondbacks got the same call.
"It was a ball inside to a guy who stands close to the plate," Mattingly said. "There was no official warning as far as not being able to pitch inside. If they're going to do that, you might as well tell the [hitter] to look away, because that is where you're going to get it because we're not allowed to pitch in."
Tschida was dismissive of Mattingly's view.
"It's always that view," Tschida said.
It also is worth noting Parra didn't appear to make any attempt to get out of the way of the pitch. But ultimately, that didn't matter.
There is some chance Kershaw could receive a league-imposed suspension and/or fine. However, in his quest to win 20 games and possibly the NL Cy Young, that likely wouldn't cost him a start. Kershaw (19-5) has two of them remaining, the last one tentatively set for Sept. 25 at San Diego. But the Dodgers have three games after that one, so if Kershaw is suspended for, say, five games -- generally the going rate for starting pitchers because it at least disrupts their routine -- he simply could be pushed back one day in the rotation so he still gets both of those starts.
Also, because there is so little time remaining in the season, the appeals process for any suspension would be expedited.
Mattingly said he didn't think a suspension was forthcoming. Shockingly, he didn't think one was warranted, either.
"I didn't hear anything about him being suspended," Mattingly said. "How do you get suspended for pitching inside and hitting a guy on the elbow who is on top of the plate?"
At any rate, we can be sure we have seen the last of this -- for now. The Diamondbacks left town after the game, having taken two of three in the series to push the Dodgers (73-75) to a magic number of one for elimination in the NL West and two in the wild-card race. But these teams will see each other again, in the season's final three games, by which time the Diamondbacks figure to have long since clinched the division title and won't have much to lose because any suspensions at that point wouldn't be served until next spring.
Until then, we have only the postgame words of Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero.
"It was a stupid move by [Kershaw]," Montero said. "I thought he was better. He was the one who was talking [trash] yesterday. I don't know. We'll see him next time."
That will happen only if Kershaw is suspended, meaning he would be pushed back in the rotation. Even so, the final two games of this series left a bad taste in a lot of other mouths besides Kershaw's. So it might be a mistake to assume this is over.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.