Clayton Kershaw shows he can maneuver obstacle courses, too

NEW YORK -- Clayton Kershaw spotted his opponent a runner on second base to open his latest outing. His overall performance was more of the same.

Kershaw then took the barrel of his broken bat off the right side of his head in the fifth inning. Still no difference.

He was even removed from the game in the middle of an inning for the first time this season -- the New York Mets rallied to tie the score in the eighth inning off the bullpen -- and still, the Los Angeles Dodgers improved to 10-1 this season in games in which Kershaw has started after Sunday's 4-2 victory.

"To say it's a luxury is an understatement," manager Dave Roberts said of that fifth day, when his ace takes the mound. "I think every time he takes the mound, you're looking at penciling in 10-12 strikeouts, eight innings. The pen is going to get rested. It's something that we don't take for granted around here. We appreciate Clayton."

The pleasant evening in New York was another example of the left-hander's dominance. Kershaw spun yet another gem in a season when he has been absolutely brilliant. Early baserunners, injury scares and anything else baseball can throw at him have failed to register, much like a gnat headbutting a grizzly bear.

Talk about May flowers. As if his massive bouquet of accomplishments hasn't been enough, Kershaw just threw one of the best months of his career into the mix after eight years into a surefire Hall of Fame run.

Sunday's game was the first time he didn't record a victory in any of his May starts, but the Dodgers still did. Adam Liberatore came on in the eighth inning for Kershaw and gave up a tying triple to Curtis Granderson. Adrian Gonzalez's go-ahead, two-run single came a half inning later.

Kershaw finished May with a 5-0 record and a 0.91 ERA. He struck out 65 batters in the season's second month and walked only two.

So what does Kershaw think of his historic May?

"Uh, not much," Kershaw said. "Just celebrate tonight. We beat the Mets. Come back again the next time I'm pitching, figure out who we're playing and get ready for them."

That next opponent will be the Atlanta Braves on Friday to kick off a six-game homestand at Dodger Stadium.

While Kershaw declined to put his month into any kind of perspective, his good friend A.J. Ellis tried to do it for him.

"It's hard to say because it seems like every stretch is amazing," Ellis said. "The MVP stretch, he had the scoreless inning streak, that was unreal what he was doing up there, which I think included the no-hitter. It's almost like you can't call them stretches anymore. It's just big eras."

Kershaw has become so valuable that even 3,000 miles away, you could almost hear the collective gasp from the other side of the country when he nearly had a freak accident. It was reminiscent of when former Dodgers catcher Steve Yeager took a broken bat to the neck while standing on deck.

Kershaw took a swing against Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, and his back cracked on contact. But instead of flying away from the handle, the barrel swung around and conked Kershaw in the helmet and neck area on his right side.

He hesitated and then stopped running altogether, seemingly clutching the right side of his face.

"It just scared me," Kershaw said. "I got hit there, but it didn't really hurt. It just scared me. I've never really done that before so it was kind of shocking. I wanted to make sure I didn't have any stab wounds. I think I was just stunned."

He came back a half inning later to retire the Mets in order. Not even lumber to the cranium gets this guy off track.

The only things that went against him on this night was an Asdrubal Cabrera home run in the fifth inning -- the only home run Kershaw gave up in May -- and the decision from his manager to remove him from the game in the eighth inning.

One batter after Kershaw took a seat on the bench, Liberatore gave up the tying triple. If Kershaw hated his manager at that moment, Roberts was understanding.

"Yeah, that's OK," Roberts said. "That's what makes him great, and he was fantastic."

Kershaw showed that with all of his talent, he does have some reason, too.

"It's a tough situation," said Kershaw, who threw 114 pitches. "That's why I'm not the manager. I think managers appreciate when you don't want to come out of the game and obviously I didn't want to and never really do. But you know what, he's making the decisions and you just have to respect it."

The Dodgers did win Sunday, but Roberts' move to take Kershaw out of the game still seemed to haunt the manager a bit.

"When Clayton's on the mound, it's tantalizing to have him finish every game," Roberts said. "And he's never going to be a guy who says, 'I've had enough,' whether it's 110, 120, 130 pitches. For a manager to have him, it's always comforting to have him as a fall back, but I think I made that decision and I've got to live with it."