ST. PETERSBURG -- Sometime shortly after his second strikeout of the game, Clayton Kershaw was faced with a decision. He was either going to be in for a rough ride Tuesday night, or the Rays were.
The decision was an easy one for the Dodgers’ ace, who went on to throw 6 1/3 solid innings during Los Angeles’ 7-3 win against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field.
Tuesday’s win moved the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner to 4-0 on the season and extended his unbeaten streak to 19 consecutive starts dating back to July 27, 2018. He has gone 10-0 since then with nine no-decisions, marking the longest active streak in the Major Leagues.
“I thought Clayton was really good,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “I thought all night long, just mixing his pitches, changing locations, pitches, sequencing, everything was great.”
And it was, as it has been before, Kershaw's early dominance that allowed the game not to get too hectic in the late innings. Unsatisfied after a pair of first-inning strikeouts, Kershaw pounded his glove in frustration during a second-inning at-bat against Avisail Garcia one pitch before it resulted in a walk. Garcia hadn't taken the bait on a trio of sliders or a fastball, opting instead to head to first after four consecutive balls.
Kershaw was off his mark for a minute, but what separates the seven-time All-Star from the rest of the herd is how he reacts in these kinds of situations: He gets mad, then he gets over it.
Travis d'Arnaud was next up, the first pitch of his at-bat sending him diving face-down to the dirt to avoid a heater to the knees. Six pitches later, a corner was officially turned as Kershaw won the battle when d'Arnaud watched a called third strike sail past.
Heyyyyyy. There it is.
And there it went. Once the Los Angeles lefty found his mark, there was little the Rays could do but hunker down, hope to drive up Kershaw's pitch count and take their chances against the Dodgers' bullpen. Brandon Lowe waved at his third strike; Daniel Robertson stood still as a statue as a gnarly curve darted past to send him packing.
By the end of the second inning, Kershaw had five strikeouts. By the end of the sixth, eight. He threw 65 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
Just another night of Kershaw doing what Kershaw does.
“He throws a ton of strikes,” said Rays left fielder Tommy Pham, who went 1-for-4 on Tuesday. “He works the corners. He works in, down, up, away. You see very little balls on the middle part of the plate when you face him.”
It only helped fuel the fire that the Dodgers had staked him to a 1-0 lead before he even took the mound. That grew to 2-0 after three and 3-0 after four, Kershaw aggressively pounding the zone while his teammates took advantage of the Rays' bullpen for a three-run seventh thanks to run-scoring singles from Enrique Hernandez, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson.
The lead came in handy. Kershaw secured the first out in the bottom of the seventh, then allowed a single and a double before turning the ball over to reliever Pedro Baez. Baez was struck by a line drive from the first batter he faced, allowing a run to score that was charged to Kershaw. The Rays scored twice more in the frame to shrink the Dodgers' lead to 6-3.
“I felt good,” Kershaw said. “I think other than that last inning, I felt everything went pretty well. Not a whole lot of hard contact; it was all right.”
“All right” for Kershaw is certainly a pretty high bar.