LOS ANGELES -- Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully wasn't about to get in the middle of this debate.Clayton Kershaw? Sandy Koufax? Who's the best?"The game is so different," said Scully.The two pitchers, however, aren't.Like Koufax in the 1960s, Kershaw in this era is that guy against whom all others are
LOS ANGELES -- Legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully wasn't about to get in the middle of this debate.
Clayton Kershaw? Sandy Koufax? Who's the best?
"The game is so different," said Scully.
The two pitchers, however, aren't.
Like Koufax in the 1960s, Kershaw in this era is that guy against whom all others are compared. And nobody even comes in a close second.
Kershaw is only 28. He's already set for life, having signed a seven-year, $215 million contract that kicked in for the 2015 season. And he just keeps getting better -- which is dang near impossible.
Kershaw added another page to his resume in a 5-1 victory against the Angels on Tuesday night, allowing one run on four hits in eight innings, raising his record to 6-1, lowering his ERA to 1.67 and making sure the Dodgers (21-19) didn't slip back to .500. He struck out 11, his club-record sixth consecutive start of 10 or more strikeouts, two games shy of the big league record shared by Pedro Martinez (1999) and Chris Sale (2015).
By walking zero, Kershaw also extened his own modern-era record (since at least 1913) to six consecutive starts with 10 or more K's and one or no walks.
Oh, Kershaw had one of those "gall-dang" moments in the second inning, when after giving up a leadoff single to Albert Pujols, he balked him to second base.
"Just lost my balance," said Kershaw, who has balked in two straight starts, tying for the league lead in that category, too.
The gaffe led to the Angels' only run when Johnny Giavotella and Shane Robinson provided back-to-back one-out singles.
But that was the only time the Angels even threatened. Giavotella, with a two-out single in the fourth, was the only other baserunner they even had in the game, as Kershaw retired the final 13 he faced.
"His stuff is good, really good, obviously," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "When you see [Mike] Trout walking up to the batter's box and he looks at me and shakes his head like, 'I'm going to take my medicine,' that respect is earned. There's that novelty, that respect, that Clayton has from other players, so when you get in there, you're almost defeated."
"He wants the ball when it counts," said former big league pitcher Mark Gubicza, now a part of the Angels' broadcast team. "He doesn't back down. He wants to be out there when the game is on the line."
That is, after all, what it is all about, Kershaw explained.
"I definitely want to be out there in the late innings," he said. "That's part of being a starting pitcher. You have to help the team out in those late-inning games."
And the Dodgers like the idea of Kershaw being out there when the game is on the line, because he most often gets the job done.
One single focus for Kershaw, but there's not one single adjective that Roberts can use to best describe the left-hander.
"Just, he's consistent," Roberts said. "He's consistently great."
Consistent? Since the start of the 2011 season, in which he pitched at the age of 23, Kershaw is 5-for-5 in All-Star selections, has won three National League Cy Young Awards, the 2014 NL MVP Award and a Gold Glove. He led the NL in ERA four years in a row before finishing third last season, and he's claimed three strikeout titles.
Consistent? During those five-plus seasons, Kershaw leads all Major League pitchers in victories (94), innings (1,198), strikeouts (1,337), ERA (2.09) and batting average against (.200, rounded up from .199906).
Consistent? The only time in the past six seasons Kershaw has not worked 200-plus innings was 2014, when he missed at least six starts while on the disabled list in April and the first week of May, but still pitched 198 1/3 innings and won the NL Cy Young Award and the NL MVP Award. He also is the only big leaguer pitcher with 20 wins in two of the past five seasons, winning 21 games in 2011 and again in '14.
And the turning point was ...
"I don't do much reflecting," Kershaw said.
Kershaw's focus is on what's next. He puts an end to a four-game Angels winning streak on Tuesday night, and minutes later, he was "getting ready for the Reds on Monday."
That's OK. Catcher A.J. Ellis, who, like Kershaw, debuted with the Dodgers during the 2008 season, can reflect enough for the both of them.
"The defining moment for him was when he was able to develop another offspeed pitch he can use," Ellis said. "He found the slider in the middle of the 2009 season. He refinished it to be able to use it to strike people out.
"When he started, it was 79-81 mph, but you look at it now and it's hard, 87, 88, 89. He's a four-pitch guy who has the same mechanics, same arm slot, on all four."
That's Kershaw. Nothing is left to fate.
"He is a testament to consistently and work ethic," said Ellis. "Neither of us are physical specimens for a beach body series, but he has big broad shoulders, big strong legs."
And Kershaw has desire. He doesn't wait and wonder. He works and succeeds. Nothing is left to chance.
"He will do dry work twice between starts," said Ellis. "He will get on the mound without the ball and visualize his delivery."
Ellis paused and smiled.
"That's the old gunslinger," said Ellis. "He is going to attack. It's 'me vs. you.'"
It's a battle Kershaw wins most times.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.