Kershaw and Greinke Dodgers' new dynamic duo
Co-aces remind many of Koufax and Drysdale
LOS ANGELES -- One year ago, Clayton Kershaw was being hailed as not just baseball's best pitcher but as the game's most dominant southpaw since the prime of Sandy Koufax.
In yet another example of the humbling, unpredictable nature of the summer pastime, Kershaw, at the moment, is not even the best pitcher on the Dodgers staff. That distinction belongs to Zack Greinke.
With Greinke heading to Cincinnati for Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile, Kershaw waits to see how the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Final Vote shakes out. He'll come along with Greinke or take a quiet break with his family -- a winning proposition for Kershaw in either case.
If this sudden rotation role reversal at Dodger Stadium seems strange, it is not unprecedented. The same dynamic was playing out in the 1960s with Koufax and buddy Don Drysdale, the Dodgers' dynamic duo.
In the common perception a half-century later, it was King Sandy and Prince Don blowing away hitters on the way to World Series crowns. In reality, Koufax and Drysdale were on equal footing, co-kings of Los Angeles and the National League.
They made that perfectly clear when they held out together the winter following the 1965 season, showing solidarity in seeking fairer wages. Koufax and Drysdale had a level of mutual respect we see with Kershaw and Greinke.
In a five-year stretch ending in 1966, Koufax and Drysdale claimed the MLB Cy Young Award four times. It wasn't until '67 that Cy Young plaques were awarded to the best in each league.
Drysdale in 1962 and Koufax in '63, '65 and '66 were judged the premier pitchers in the game by the Baseball Writers' Association of America voters. A three-time unanimous selection, Koufax was third in '64 when the award went to the Angels' Dean Chance.
Koufax and Drysdale peaked as a tandem in '65, en route to capturing the World Series title against the Twins. The duo combined for 49 wins, 26 by Koufax. They completed 47 games, 27 by Koufax. Koufax struck out 382 hitters in 335 2/3 innings with a 2.04 ERA. Drysdale had 210 punch outs in 308 1/3 innings, a 2.77 ERA. One sidelight: that year Drysdale batted .300 with seven homers and 19 RBIs.
Forget it. Those numbers will never even be approached by a pair of mound mates.
It was following that season that they enacted their dual holdout, seeking $1 million spread equally over three years. Koufax was making $85,000, Drysdale $80,000. Eventually, Drysdale settled for $110,000, Koufax for $125,000.
Make no mistake: Koufax, like Kershaw now, was the superior artist. But Drysdale was great enough to have been the ace on virtually every other staff in the Majors. Greinke is in that category now.
As baseball luxuries go, few compare to what the Dodgers had then and have now.
Kershaw and Greinke will be dealing back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday nights against the Phillies at Dodger Stadium.
The Majors' ERA leader an unprecedented four consecutive seasons, Kershaw uncharacteristically is at 3.08 with a 5-6 record in 17 outings. Greinke, his scoreless innings streak at 27 2/3, leads the Majors with his stunning 1.48 ERA in 17 starts.
If anything, this disparity in earned run averages might inform us that strikeouts can be overrated.
Kershaw has sent away 147 hitters in 114 innings. Greinke is down the list with 98 strikeouts in 115 1/3 innings. Opponents are batting .216 against Kershaw, .200 against Greinke.
Al Downing, who launched his career throwing pure heat for the Yankees before evolving into the classic crafty lefty with the Dodgers, observes a familiar transformation in Greinke.
"He has become a pitcher," Downing said. "He's throwing a variety of pitches to different locations, keeping hitters off balance. He's not trying to blow them away.
"When you become more efficient and get early-count outs, you can get deeper in games without as much strain. It's something pitchers have to figure out when they lose something off their fastball."
Remembered primarily for delivering the pitch Hank Aaron hammered for career home run No. 715 in 1974, Downing retired after 17 seasons with a 3.22 career ERA that was better than the ERAs of 23 Hall of Fame pitchers -- including Bob Feller, Don Sutton, Catfish Hunter, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine.
Known as "Ace" to teammates, Downing learned through personal experience that command and guile can compensate for diminished velocity. So it is with Greinke.
It is hard to envision the Dodgers letting him get away via his contractual right to opt out this winter. Seriously, who would out-bid them? Only this, however, is certain: Zack and Clayton never will have to hold out together.