Ker-show: 132 pitches, 15 K's, 1 sweep
Another masterpiece from ace lifts Dodgers to 6 1/2-game lead in NL West
LOS ANGELES -- From his observation point roughly 75 feet away, Jimmy Rollins saw nothing of concern with Clayton Kershaw in the ninth inning Wednesday as the pitch count rose along with pulse rates at Dodger Stadium. The Giants were threatening, but the big lefty was still dealing.
"If the velocity starts dropping and he's not as sharp, that's when you know he's getting tired," Rollins said in the afterglow of a 2-1 Dodgers triumph completing a three-game sweep and knocking the Giants 6 1/2 games off their National League West lead.
"He was still in the mid-90s and his breaking stuff was sharp," Rollins said. "The [1-1] curveball he threw to [Gregor] Blanco [before striking him out] was filthy -- 74 [mph] and never got above his chest.
"He's a well-conditioned pitcher, and it showed tonight. When you get between 125 and 140 pitches, what's the difference, really? Adrenaline comes from desire, from wanting to complete that game and finish the job."
When Kershaw pumped his career-high-tying 132nd pitch of the night -- a slider, through the swing of Marlon Byrd, leaving Matt Duffy and Buster Posey stranded after two-out singles -- the mission was accomplished. Kershaw's 15-K, complete-game masterwork lifted his record to 12-6 and shaved his ERA to 2.18, leaving the defending World Series champions reeling.
"We're a good team," Kershaw said, "and we're starting to play like that."
Mike Leake, the Giants' new right-hander, gave them a solid effort through seven innings. But he was up against a master. A sixth-inning solo blast to center by new Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley -- a man known to flourish under pressure with the Phillies -- was the difference.
"With [Kershaw], you know it's going to be within a run," Leake said. "He showed tonight, it's going to be a zero- or one-run game. It's not added stress [opposing him], but it's a fun challenge."
Since July 8, Kershaw is 7-0 with a 0.90 ERA across 80 innings, striking out 104 to take his season total to a career-high and MLB-best 251. He has walked just seven hitters in those 10 starts.
Closer Kenley Jansen, needing a day off, wasn't available, but manager Don Mattingly had arms warm in the bullpen. He looked at Kershaw's velocity readings and let him roll to the finish line despite the solid back-to-back strokes by Duffy and Posey.
"It was pretty much smooth sailing all night," Mattingly said. "There were not a lot of battles -- one thing [pitching coach] Rick [Honeycutt] taught me. He had a lot of easy innings, and he was throwing 94, 95, just as hard as in the middle of the game.
"It's that time of year to let him go. ... You try to save the bullets for games like this to let him go, keep him strong over the year."
Kershaw thought it was "50-50" he'd be asked to get one more hitter after Posey drove a two-strike single through the middle on the heels of Duffy's two-strike bullet to left.
"How am I doing?" Kershaw said, repeating the greeting he got from Mattingly on the mound. "I'm good," came the pitcher's response.
The manager had no intention of leaving this job to someone else.
"Good wins," Kershaw said, summing up the sweep that began with a 14-inning triumph on Monday night, followed by a Zack Greinke gem. "Obviously, playing the Giants is big. We haven't played well against them [3-9 heading into the series]. This proves we can beat them. But 6 1/2 [in front] doesn't mean anything. We have four left with them."
Kershaw had his heater humming across the corners and his two breakers spinning and diving from the outset. He faced the minimum of hitters through five innings, picking off Posey after his first-pitch single leading off the second.
Seven of Kershaw's final nine outs were punchouts, reflecting how he held his stuff throughout.
"He had a really good slider, cutter," Duffy said. "He was throwing it harder than he has in the past."
Kelby Tomlinson's leadoff walk in the sixth was Kershaw's one glitch. Tomlinson stole second and scored on Angel Pagan's two-out shot past third baseman Justin Turner. This tied a game the Dodgers had led since Turner singled and scored on Carl Crawford's double in the second.
After three nights of high drama, Kershaw and Mattingly both cautioned against a natural letdown with a weekend trip to San Diego followed by an Interleague series in Anaheim with the Angels. The Giants head to Colorado, looking to regroup.
"We can't go to San Diego and relax," Kershaw said.
The Padres have a hot hitter named Matt Kemp, among others, who would love to cause the Dodgers a few headaches.
"The next series," Mattingly said, "is a tough series."
Nobody said it was going to be easy.