Kershaw dominant even without fastball
SAN DIEGO -- Clayton Kershaw was beaming and feeling just fine, even if a 4-3 decision at the expense of the Padres on Friday night belonged to a teammate.
Yimi Garcia delivered seven pitches compared to Kershaw's 117 -- and one of the seven landed in the bleachers, turning a lead into a deficit.
Such is the nature of baseball, which gives us nights such as these when almost nothing makes much sense and everyone is left in wonder.
"It's good to get a win," said Kershaw, who lasted 6 2/3 innings and notched 11 strikeouts while having a hard time getting his fastball to behave. "There was a lot of back and forth . . . late hits. They battled, but it was a good win for us."
The Dodgers made about a week's worth of mistakes, a litany of both the physical and mental variety, on the rocky course to a clean landing courtesy of closer Kenley Jansen. His cutter sliced through three Padres for strikeouts, the final out came on a big, futile swing by Derek Norris, the catcher whose two-run blast in the seventh off Garcia had given the Padres a one-run lead.
The Dodgers, pushing their lead in the National League West to 2 1/2 games over the Giants, lost three runners on the base paths; lost their most valuable player, Adrian Gonzalez, to an ejection, and let a towering popup fall in a crowd for a two-base error on first baseman Justin Turner, setting up Norris' homer.
"I'm frustrated with our baseball team tonight," Mattingly said. "Too many mistakes. It's easier to swallow . . . when you get a win."
A happy ending is always the perfect antidote -- as long as those mistakes, Mattingly added, are duly noted and filed away for future reference.
Kershaw, hiking his National League lead in strikeouts to 112, was charged with one earned run on a solo homer by shortstop Clint Barmes with one down in the seventh. His ERA over his past four starts is 0.96, and it has fallen to a more respectable 3.21 for the season after his strangely ineffective start.
"My fastball command was so bad tonight, my pitch count kept going up and up," Kershaw said. "I was able to go out for the seventh and at the end of the day, we got the win."
It was a night of close shaves in another area for the great southpaw. In the first inning, the Padres' Justin Upton smacked a line drive off Kershaw's backside for a single. The pitcher waved off any concerns about his well-being, escaping a jam and later explaining that the ball caught a cushioned part of his anatomy.
"It feels fine," he said, grinning. "It's all good."
Only in the fifth did Kershaw sail through a perfect inning, and he would have departed with a shutout -- the 117 pitches exceeding his previous season high by seven -- if Barmes hadn't launched a slider into the left-field seats.
"I tried to spin a lot more breaking balls," Kershaw said of the manner in which he compensated for a wayward heater.
Yes, he said, he would have been happy to remain in the game and get the last out of the seventh.
"I'm never tired," Kershaw said, still grinning.
Given the value he represents to the franchise, Kershaw is to be monitored closely by those in charge. Extending him in June is a risk that could backfire down the stretch or in October. This is no time to let him go, as the Giants did with Madison Bumgarner in Game 7 of the 2015 World Series in Kansas City.
"It was fairly easy," Mattingly said of his decision to lift his meal ticket.
Kershaw's last out came when pinch-hitter Cory Spangenberg grounded out to Turner, who moved to first from third after Gonzalez was tossed for questioning home-plate umpire Doug Eddings' strike zone. That happened in the seventh as Gonzalez bounced into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded against reliever Frank Garces.
"I have faith in our guys to pull it off," Gonzalez said, and that they did with a two-run eighth inning built on four hits, starting with Howie Kendrick's double and ending with Alex Guerrero's pinch-hit RBI single for the decisive run.
The Padres, with a depleted bullpen, were coming off a productive road trip, winning four of seven games. At 31-32, they could jump right into this race with the other two California clubs with a nice little run.
So it goes in the Wild West, where every day brings a new set of thrills.