Kershaw silences Trout in 'extraordinary' matchup
Freeway Series marks 1st regular season faceoff between reigning league MVPs
LOS ANGELES - From the moment Mike Trout stepped into the batter's box and tapped Yasmani Grandal's shin guards in his customary first-inning greeting, the Dodgers' catcher knew he was in the middle of something really good, something extraordinary.
"It's not often you get to see one of the best players face one of the best pitchers," said Grandal, whose two-run homer proved the difference in a 3-1 victory that has the Angels in danger of being swept at the hands of their geographical rivals on Sunday.
"I'm a fan not only of baseball but of players -- especially a player like Trout," Grandal said. "Even though he's a young guy, he's earned respect around the game for how he plays."
Trout engaging Clayton Kershaw on a flawless Saturday afternoon marked the first time in history the reigning Most Valuable Player Award winners in each league squared off in a regular season game. It had happened in the 1937 World Series, when the Yankees' Lou Gehrig took his swings against the Giants' Carl Hubbell.
It was Grandal's job to put down the right fingers in the right spots. Kershaw, his fastball humming, the breaking ball snapping, was dealing like a man with no concern about a tender hip.
Limiting the Angels to two singles and a walk, the reigning National League MVP was dominant across eight innings.
"That's why he's the best in the league," Trout said.
His scoreless-innings streak reached 37. A complete-game shutout next time out will push Kershaw past teammate Zack Greinke's 45 2/3 innings streak that ended in New York.
To get through the Angels, Kershaw had to navigate his way past Trout, who has the look of a man who could make a serious run at a Triple Crown. He's within striking distance, batting .314 with an MLB-high 32 homers and 67 RBIs.
Trout was a one-man wrecking crew on Friday night against Greinke and closer Kenley Jansen, falling a double shy of the cycle. But on Saturday, Kershaw quickly established the upper hand. The reigning American League MVP looked at a third-strike hook that started at his shoulders and dipped sharply.
Three innings later, he grounded into a forceout on a 2-1 fastball after Kershaw again got ahead with a first-pitch slider. Good pitchers have razors-edge memories; Kershaw recalled Trout lashing a first-pitch fastball for a double and going 2-for-3 in their first encounter last season at Dodger Stadium.
"There were different circumstances in his first at-bat," Kershaw said, Trout hitting with two down and nobody on base. "The next time, with a man on, we went off-speed. The third time it's 3-0 [Dodgers]. If he's going to hit a homer, so be it."
Trout was denied in his final at-bat against Kershaw on a sprawling catch in right by Yasiel Puig. The best player in the game is now 2-for-6 against the sport's premier pitcher.
"He was throwing all his pitches -- cutting, sinking, sliding, curving, the whole bit," Trout said. "Felt like I was seeing him pretty good. He jammed me on a couple of pitches, but other than that, it's a tough one."
Jansen made amends for the homer by striking out Trout in the ninth before Albert Pujols' RBI single averted a shutout.
"He's a great hitter, probably the best hitter in the game," Kershaw said of the Trout confrontation. "I was just trying to get him out."
Grandal was impressed with Kershaw's execution.
"If you make a mistake on him, Trout is going to make you pay," Grandal said. "He showed that [Friday night]. Today it was more a matter of making good pitches, getting ahead and putting him away.
"For a guy as young as he is, he's very smart. Pujols, I think, has a little bit to do with that. It seems like they talk a lot. They have a very similar approach -- they won't swing at bad pitches. They make you work."
Howie Kendrick, Trout's Angels teammate for four years, was dealt to the Dodgers in December in exchange for Andrew Heaney. Heaney, the young lefty, yielded two runs in 5 1/3 solid innings in his duel with Kershaw.
"He had good stuff," Kendrick said. "It's always interesting facing the guy you were traded for."
Kendrick started the decisive three-run sixth with a line-drive single off Heaney, scoring on Scott Van Slyke's sacrifice fly after Adrian Gonzalez's single. Grandal finished it off with a two-run homer off reliever Fernando Salas.
Kendrick was fully engaged facing his former club with his family watching. He supplied a memory, robbing old buddy Erick Aybar of a hit with a dazzling play in the second inning.
Trout and Kendrick remain close, texting each other regularly.
"My kids love Mike," Kendrick said, beaming. "[My son] Owen told me, 'I'm going to be in the stands so I can watch Mike.' Mike's the best player in the game. And he gets so much respect around the game for his attitude and work ethic as much as his talent.
"Clayton's got a couple years on him, but they're both young. They're going to be facing each other for a long time. Doesn't get any better than this, does it?"