200 wins! Kershaw's greatness 'epitomized' in milestone victory

April 19th, 2023

LOS ANGELES -- Every time takes the mound at Dodger Stadium, the buzz around the ballpark hits a little different. His fastball-slider combination is deadly on hitters and nothing gets the crowd going quite like his 12-6 curveball. 

As Kershaw began his start on Tuesday against the Mets, everyone in the building knew what would happen if the left-hander won the game. It would give Kershaw his 200th career victory, yet another milestone in what will very likely be a Hall of Fame career. 

Not only did Kershaw become the latest member of the 200-win club following the Dodgers’ 5-0 victory over the Mets, but he also made sure he did it in dominant fashion, striking out nine over seven scoreless innings.

Kershaw became just the third pitcher to reach 200 wins with the Dodgers, joining Don Sutton (233) and Don Drysdale (209). His .694 career winning percentage is the best among pitchers in the Modern Era with at least 200 career wins, just ahead of Whitey Ford (.690).

“The goal is to win. That’s why tonight is really cool,” Kershaw said. “Because it’s a team stat, a win. So for me to be able to do that 200 times is just a product of being on some great teams.”

Kershaw’s greatness was on display right from the jump on Tuesday. Brandon Nimmo led off the game with a liner to right that appeared to be somewhat routine for Jason Heyward. But Heyward dropped the ball and tripped over his feet, allowing Nimmo to reach third. 

With the way the season has gone for the Dodgers to this point and with the lineup missing Mookie Betts (paternity list) and Will Smith (concussion), every run loomed large for Los Angeles. However, Nimmo didn’t move from third for the rest of the inning. 

Kershaw struck out Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso, all swinging, to end the first-inning threat. He threw 20 pitches in the frame, 18 of them going for strikes.

“Tonight’s performance really kind of epitomized who he is as a competitor,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “Just overcoming a three-base error with a team that’s swinging the bats really well and to punch three, to give us that confidence, that momentum going into the bottom of the first inning, that was Clayton. He essentially put us on his back today. … For him to get that 200 at home, I know that’s something he was really excited about.”

Once Kershaw settled down, the Mets’ lineup didn’t have much of a chance in what was a vintage performance by the veteran. He retired 17 of the next 18 batters he faced and recorded 16 first-pitch strikes in 20 at-bats through six innings. 

“I think he really wanted it. It’s a big mark,” said Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes. “It was obviously a big win for him and for the team. Two hundred wins … it’s 10 years of 20 wins. That’s hard to do.”

In the seventh, the Mets created some tension by threatening with two outs against Kershaw. Mark Canha worked a 13-pitch at-bat and singled, just the Mets’ second hit of the game. Jeff McNeil followed with a base hit of his own, setting the stage for Tommy Pham, who represented the tying run. 

Pham was able to work a full count against Kershaw. And after a series of high fastballs and a curveball, Kershaw finally turned to his most effective weapon -- his slider -- and got Pham swinging to end the inning. Kershaw clenched his fists and let out a massive roar.

It helped Kershaw make even more history, as he passed Mickey Lolich for 22nd on the all-time AL/NL strikeout list with 2,833. Kershaw also has 15 career starts of seven or more innings while allowing three or fewer hits and no walks. That’s second behind Greg Maddux (22) for the most since 1901. 

“There’s a reason he’s going to be a Hall of Famer,” Nimmo said. “There’s a reason he’s still in the game, and he did a very good job of working efficiently.” 

After the game, Freddie Freeman and the rest of his teammates held a champagne toast for Kershaw inside the Dodgers’ clubhouse. It was an opportunity to celebrate the latest great moment in a storied career.

And while Kershaw preferred to discuss what the team has been able to accomplish rather than his individual achievements, the reality is the Dodgers have been successful for this long largely due to his greatness. That was on full display once again on Tuesday. 

“We had a few different toasts, just kind of taking a moment to recognize him, which we should,” Roberts said. “That just speaks to the respect that they have for him.”