Clayton Kershaw's MVP case gets an unlikely assist

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw’s left arm was packed in ice and wrapped up tight in a towel, but that was no obstacle.

When Justin Turner’s deep fly ball cleared the left-field fence, Kershaw sprinted the length of the dugout, both arms pumping wildly. The two-run shot in the eighth would make a winner out of the Los Angeles Dodgers and of Kershaw, who was in danger of dominating again and losing

“That ball goes out, that’s pretty awesome,” Kershaw said.

Turner called it “one of the biggest hits” of his career, which seems like an understatement considering he spent the bulk of his career with the New York Mets, who never won more than 77 games while he was there. It was the biggest hit, so far, of this Dodgers season. Indeed, despite their recent rash of injuries, the Dodgers still have World Series aspirations.

The victory kept the San Francisco Giants from creeping within 2 1/2 games of the Dodgers’ lead for the first time in more than two weeks, but it also erased a very dark narrative. Outside of Kershaw, the Dodgers’ starting rotation is in shambles, with three starters down with injuries. If the Dodgers wasted eight brilliant innings from Kershaw -- as they were about to do before Turner’s dinger -- they would have had to wait at least five long days for their ace to try to get them right again.

Kershaw said he didn’t go into Thursday thinking it was any more important than any other regular-season start, even though the Dodgers had fallen in early holes during each of their previous four games and the bullpen was on fumes.

“Not really,” he said. “We need wins no matter what. The Giants are playing better right now, and we just need to keep winning games.”

In a way, Turner’s clutch moment preserved Kershaw’s MVP hopes. Though Kershaw (15-3) has participated in just 21 of the Dodgers’ 129 games, the case seems to grow stronger by the week that he is, in fact, the National League’s most valuable player.

“Yeah, why not? When he has the ball, he’s the best player on the field,” Turner said. “He’s got my vote.”

Turner, in fact, doesn’t have a vote. Those all reside with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who will cast their ballots before the end of the regular season and wait with everyone else for the winners to be announced sometime in November. Kershaw doesn’t seem to be thinking about winning his third Cy Young in four years or being the National League’s first MVP pitcher in 46 years. He doesn’t seem to think about anything except how to make sure the Dodgers win the game on the day he pitches.

“I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody like this guy,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “We’ve talked about it so many other times, but he’s just constantly driven. It’s start-to-start. Tomorrow will be on to the next one, and he’ll be on a mission for that one. He’s a guy with just a huge motor as far as wanting to compete. Again, I don’t know how much more I can talk about him without saying the same things over and over.”

They all seem to blend together at this point, one brilliant Kershaw start after another.

The relevant details Thursday were these:

• He didn’t give up a hit until opposing pitcher Tyson Ross singled off him with two outs in the sixth inning.

• He struck out 10 batters and gave up just three hits in eight innings.

• When one comes into a game with 1.86 ERA, it’s not that easy to improve on it. But Kershaw (15-3) did, chipping it down to 1.82.

And none of it looked like it was going to matter, because Ross was just as good, holding the Dodgers scoreless until Carl Crawford smacked one off his glove for an infield hit leading off the eighth. Turner had done his homework. He had been watching Ross all game, and when the tall right-hander fell behind in the count, he tended to throw his slider.

Kershaw wasn’t sure whether Turner would be instructed to bunt to move Crawford into scoring position to represent the tying run. Turner hadn't been, so the third baseman jumped on a slider that lingered a millisecond too long in the strike zone and drove it over the left-center fence.

That prompted another bubble party. The Dodgers continue to ignore Major League Baseball’s gentle admonition and party with bubbles after one of their players hits a home run. It was a first for Turner, who had hit all three of his previous home runs before the bubble-making toy entered the scene.

“I think I’ve got a concussion, the guys pounded my helmet so hard,” Turner.

It seemed like that moment released a lot of built-up tension.