LOS ANGELES -- The moment called for champagne. Clayton Kershaw had just captured the 200th regular-season victory of his illustrious career, a number that has taken on added significance in an era of bullpen specialization. And so his Dodgers teammates popped bottles of Jay-Z's signature brut, Armand de Brignac, and toasted the foremost pitcher of his generation.
Some of the comments, Kershaw said, "made me uncomfortable."
Kershaw has always struggled with self-reflection and has never enjoyed attention toward his personal accolades. Time has not made him any more at ease in these settings. But as his family grows and retirement nears for Kershaw, teammates and coaches have noticed him making more of an effort to savor them. The aftermath of Tuesday's 5-0 win over the New York Mets qualified as the latest example.
"This was probably the most receptive to individual attention, even from our guys, that I've seen," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Kershaw. "He's all about the team and certainly doesn't play for any individual accolades or credit, but he understood we wanted to take a moment for him, and he embraced it."
Backed by two home runs from teammate J.D. Martinez, Kershaw pitched seven scoreless innings against a red-hot Mets team, scattering three hits and striking out nine on a night when a robust Dodger Stadium crowd also honored legendary broadcaster Vin Scully.
Kershaw, 35, became the 117th pitcher to record 200 career victories, but nobody has reached that territory more efficiently. Kershaw's career regular-season winning percentage sits at .694, the highest among those with at least 200 wins. Next on the list, respectively, are Whitey Ford (.690), Bob Caruthers (.688), Pedro Martinez (.687) and Lefty Grove (.680). While his teammates gathered around him postgame, Kershaw made it a point to tell them the milestone was reflective of the dominant teams that continually surround him.
"That's why tonight is really cool -- because it's a team stat, a win," Kershaw said. "So for me to be able to do that 200 times is just a product of being on some great teams."
Kershaw has resided on Dodgers teams that have won nine division titles over the past 10 years and have surpassed 100 wins in four of them. But he also has starred for them, anchored them and oftentimes carried them. His latest outing was no different. The Dodgers (9-9) were scuffling, losing three of four to fall below .500 in the early part of this season. The Mets (11-7), meanwhile, were riding a five-game winning streak. Kershaw's performance, Roberts said, "really kind of epitomized who he is as a competitor."
He began his start with a runner on third base, the result of a misplayed line drive by right fielder Jason Heyward. But Kershaw came back to strike out Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso in order, relying heavily on his signature curveball to end the first inning. It kick-started a stretch in which Kershaw retired 20 of the 21 batters he faced.
The Mets finally threatened with two outs in the seventh. Mark Canha capped a 13-pitch at-bat with a soft single. Jeff McNeil followed with another base hit, putting runners on the corners and bringing the tying run up to bat. But Kershaw came back to strike out Tommy Pham, preserving a three-run lead and igniting a standing ovation from the 46,884 in attendance.
The punchout gave Kershaw 2,833 K's for his career, moving him past Mickey Lolich for 22nd on the all-time list. Kershaw became the third Dodgers pitcher to reach 200 wins, joining Don Sutton (233) and Don Drysdale (209).
"If you do the math, that's 10 years of 20 wins," Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said. "I think it speaks to how good he is. I think he's a special teammate, player, pitcher, and it's just a testament to his longevity."
The only other active pitchers to reach 200 wins are Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke, none of whom project for 300. No pitcher has reached that number since Randy Johnson in 2009, and only Verlander, a 40-year-old sitting on 244, seems to have even a remote shot. Three-hundred wins used to identify the inner-circle Hall of Famers. Now it might be extinct, gone in an era when starting pitchers barely even face a lineup a third time through and thus don't stay in games long enough to qualify for victories.
Kershaw was asked whether 200 should be viewed as the new 300.
"Y'all can look at it however you want; I just know that 300 sounds like a lot," he said. "I think 200 [is] really cool, and I'm excited about that. It doesn't feel like 300 is really doable right now. All the more impressive to the people who have done it before me."