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Kershaw maintains his man-on-a-mission mode

National League Cy Young Award-winning lefty keeps his focus at all times on mound @TracyRingolsby

DENVER -- The thunder and lightning were severe enough that the fans sitting in the open upper deck of Coors Field were ordered to find cover in the bottom of the fifth inning on Sunday afternoon.

Dodgers outfielders Scott Van Slyke and Matt Kemp headed for the safety of the visiting dugout, only to be sent back to their positions by the umpires.

Clayton Kershaw stood on the mound. He never flinched. His focus wasn't on the constant rain.

Kershaw had a job to do. It was his day to pitch. The only thing on his mind was the next Rockies hitter he was going to face.

"He is on a mission on the day he pitches," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly. "He is going full speed ahead."

And more often than not, the mission is accomplished.

Sunday afternoon, Kershaw was able to ignore the elements enough to earn a 6-1 victory in a game called in the bottom of the sixth inning. He gave up three hits --  two singles and a Troy Tulowitzki home run leading off the fourth -- the lone blemishes in a nine-strikeout, walk-free performance.

"I talked to Jamey [Wright] and the rain is almost a benefit [at Coors Field]," Kershaw said in reference to his winter-workout partner, current teammate and former No. 1 Draft pick of the Rockies. "It adds humidity. Jamie made a good point. When [Hideo] Nomo threw his no-hitter here [Sept. 17, 1996, with the Dodgers], there was a rain delay and the game didn't start until 9 p.m."

It's not like Kershaw needs any advantages. He's only 26, but he already has established himself among the elite.

Kershaw's 2.62 career ERA is the lowest since 1920 for any pitcher with at least 1,000 innings pitched and 100 starts made, and he is followed on the list by Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (2.75), Sandy Koufax (2.76), Spud Chandler (2.84) and Jim Palmer (2.86).

Kershaw has already been a three-time All-Star, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, and only the fourth pitcher to start four consecutive Opening Days for the Dodgers.

"With the teams I have played on, coached and managed, I don't think there's been anyone like him," said Mattingly. "There have been some good guys like [Ron Guidry] and [Mike] Mussina, but they were not quite the same as Clayton.

"He still has a ways to go. He's still early in his career. But he is a guy that is on a mission day in and day out."

The high regard with which Kershaw is held is as obvious as the seven-year, $215 million contract extension he signed during the offseason. It's the biggest deal ever given a pitcher, and the annual average value of $30.7 million is the largest ever received by any player.

It's provided nice financial security for Kershaw. It has not changed Kershaw's method of operation, however.

"The biggest insult anybody can say is, 'You've changed,' " said Kershaw. "I want to be the same guy, no matter what. I take pride in that."

But the accomplishments? The accolades? The money?

"It's still baseball," Kershaw said. "I'm still pitching every fifth day. There are definitely expectations. Anybody making that much money is going to have pressure on him, but I get nervous every time I pitch, no matter what I make.

"It's not about making money when you are pitching in a game. It's about competing. It's about winning."

And just how serious Kershaw takes that day he pitches is apparent by his mood. He has a serious game face. The conversations are minimal when Kershaw gets to the ballpark.

"You don't mess with him," said Mattingly. "He's focused. He has a job to do and he wants to do it. He knows what's going on. A couple games ago, the catcher was going out [to the mound] buying some time, and the bullpen was busy. He was angry out there. He wants to be there at the end."

Kershaw's focus was apparent during Sunday's rain delay. Fifteen minutes after being pulled from the field, he was in the batting cage, throwing off the mound, staying loose in case play resumed. After an hour, though, Kershaw conceded that his day was over, rain or shine.

"When it is your day to pitch, you take it seriously," said Kershaw. "I enjoy competing. The other days, I try to be the best teammate I can. But the fifth day, you have to be a little bit selfish. It's your day to contribute to the team."

It is part of what makes Kershaw so special.

"The other days, he's in the dugout cheering his teammates, riding the umps," said Mattingly.

Kershaw is just one of the guys on those four days. On the fifth day, however, he's a little more special than anybody else in the game.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist of

Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw