<
>

Clayton Kershaw snaps Dodgers' losing streak, carries club past finish line

LOS ANGELES -- One of the most wicked left-handers on the planet was evil incarnate Sunday, showing absolutely no mercy on a day when that was exactly what was needed.

Clayton Kershaw is not a one-man team, but nobody on the Los Angeles Dodgers would have objected if the scoreboard at game's end would have read: Clayton Kershaw 1, San Diego Padres 0.

In a career already filled with some astounding performances, Sunday's was right up there -- Kershaw was perfect through four innings, struck out 14 in a three-hitter and pitched the 13th complete-game shutout of his career.

That every bit of his dominance was needed to hold off the sub-.500 Padres shows just what kind of a scramble the Dodgers have found themselves in of late. Sunday's one-man squeaker ended the club's six-game losing streak, their longest home losing streak in five years.

"You'd be lying if you said you didn't want to be the guy who ended the streak, so that definitely feels good," Kershaw said. "We needed a win, there's no doubt about it, and it wasn't pretty today."

Perhaps Kershaw's definition of "pretty" differs from everybody else's.

The ace pitcher's day was not just about his work on the mound. He also drove in the game's only run with a single to center field in the third inning. The last Dodgers pitcher to deliver a complete-game shutout and drive in the game's only run was another left-hander of note: Fernando Valenzuela in 1984.

Kershaw is a once-in-a-generation pitcher because he is not only able to operate in baseball's stratosphere, he can actually find an even higher area to pass the time when he needs it. He was determined Sunday, just like he was during his last complete-game shutout, in September of last season at San Francisco, when the Dodgers finished off a division-clinching victory.

"There is a reason that he's the best pitcher in baseball," 14-year veteran Chase Utley said. "He's good on a daily basis, but he's able to kind of elevate his game to a completely different level than anybody else. There is a reason why he is so good."

But even Batman needs a Robin, so catcher A.J. Ellis played the role of the all-important sidekick. Ellis not only guided his friend from behind the plate, he scored on Kershaw's single after preceding it with his own double.

"Clayton definitely knew he was on his game," Ellis said. "He had a good feeling, he warmed up extremely well and he took the mound in the first inning. He set the tone for us and gave up a lot of energy coming back into the dugout after the top of the first."

How can one man set the tone after just three outs have been recorded in a game? Kershaw struck out the side in the first inning, including both Jon Jay and Matt Kemp on three pitches. Kershaw bounced back to the dugout after an 11-pitch opening frame.

It was as if he was toying with the Padres. There was definitely something big kid/little kid about it.

"It's a Little League game where you get the hit to win the game and you go nine innings and you punch out 14," manager Dave Roberts said. "It was great to see, and he and A.J. were working so well together. What they were doing together was so special."

The first hit Kershaw gave up was to Alexei Ramirez in the fifth inning, when the right-handed hitter poked a ball past first base and down the line. But Ramirez was erased at second base by right fielder Yasiel Puig when trying to stretch the hit into a double.

The only trouble Kershaw found was in the seventh inning, when Wil Myers and Kemp came up with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with one out. Kershaw then struck out Melvin Upton Jr. and got Derek Norris on a fly out. Kershaw said he actually got Upton on a hanging 89 mph slider.

"That was a little bit of good fortune on our part that he swung through it," Kershaw said. "He probably could have done some damage on that pitch, so that was big for us. And Norris, I was just able to get in on him a little bit, so that was good."

It obviously was not a no-hitter, but those who have seen no-nos in the past believed Kershaw's stuff was as good, if not better Sunday, than those days when a pitcher has completely held an opponent in check.

"He was pretty impressive," Utley said. "They had a few hits but didn't hit any ball hard. When he's on like that, you've seen it a ton, he's tough."

Despite Kershaw's work of art, though, there was still the underlying element of the meager offense. For all of Kershaw's dominance, the Dodgers were also held to just three hits in a game started by Drew Pomeranz. The San Diego left-hander is not on the level of the Dodgers' starter, but Kershaw said he witnessed his opponent throw one of the better breaking balls he has seen all season.

It doesn't make the offensive blackout any less worrisome as the Dodgers head into interleague play next week at Tampa Bay and Toronto. No, there are no indications Kershaw will also fly the team plane there.

"Everybody goes through it," said Adrian Gonzalez, who was a brutal 0-for-20 on the homestand with eight strikeouts, dropping his batting average on the season from .347 to .277. "I don't think there has been a team in history that hasn't gone through it at some point. It was a tough homestand. I didn't feel like the ball was carrying at all and we hit some balls that could have changed things around, but all of them were caught at the warning track throughout the series. And then we just didn't have great at-bats overall."