Kershaw wins showdown of MVP candidates
Ace leads Dodgers to victory over Posey's pursuing Giants
SAN FRANCISCO -- Asked late Sunday afternoon if he had an opinion to volunteer with respect to the 2014 National League Most Valuable Player Award, Adrian Gonzalez did not hesitate.
"Kershaw!" the Dodgers first baseman said, quickly, firmly, almost defiantly. "Don't even mention anybody else. If somebody even tries to mention somebody else, they're an idiot. They're just trying to create a story."
All right, then, here's the story. If the balloting should come down to Clayton Kershaw and Buster Posey -- this is where fans of Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton howl in protest -- the Dodgers' ace got a leg-kick up on the Giants' big bopper Sunday.
Winning for the 19th time in 22 decisions -- his team is 21-4 when he starts -- Kershaw gave a vivid demonstration of why he's the best pitcher this game has seen in quite some time. Los Angeles, leading San Francisco in the NL West by three games with 13 left, is four games above .500 when he doesn't pitch.
Posey also showed his value with a two-out RBI single that sliced an early deficit in half in the third inning. But as the AT&T Park crowd roared, it seemed to bring out the wicked side of Kershaw, a generous soul in civilian life who transforms himself between the lines.
This was Kershaw's game, set and match. Gonzalez and his teammates will tell you it's been that way all season, and they don't expect it to change any time soon.
Kershaw actually watched his ERA rise from 1.67 to 1.70 by yielding two earned runs across eight innings. Kenley Jansen finished the job with his 42nd save, striking out two of the three men he faced.
Kershaw fanned nine and walked one, bringing to 219-to-28 his strikeouts-to-walk ratio. He's on course for a fourth consecutive Major League ERA title, something never before achieved.
"He's the greatest pitcher in the game right now," second baseman Dee Gordon said, "and one of the greatest teammates and people. He goes out and battles hard no matter what. He gives us so much confidence. ... You always know you're in good hands when he's out there.
"It really is hard to think of anyone else getting [the MVP trophy]. Let's see if they get it right this time."
This reference was to 2011 when Matt Kemp was edged in the Baseball Writers' Association of America balloting by Ryan Braun. The Brewers outfielder later admitted to performance-enhancing drug use, drawing a 65-game suspension last year.
The return of Kemp to that game-breaking level in the second half has given the Dodgers a jolt. It was the Giants who felt the impact Sunday when he launched a two-run homer in the sixth off Yusmeiro Petit that proved decisive.
Just as he made Zack Greinke the player of the game after Friday night's 17-0 romp, Kemp deferred to the man on the mound after the Dodgers had taken the series.
"Kersh is always on point," Kemp said of the man from Texas. "He figures out a way to keep us in the game."
This was no easy task. The Giants drove up Kershaw's pitch count, and there was some question as to whether he'd have enough in the tank to get through the eighth and turn it over to Jansen.
Manager Don Mattingly was talked into turning Kershaw loose against Joe Panik, who bounced one back to the mound. Kershaw then disposed of Posey on three nasty sliders and retired Hunter Pence on a deep drive handled by Yasiel Puig in center.
"I had a little more margin for error with nobody on base," Kershaw said of his second whiff of Posey, the first having come in the first inning on a 2-2 slider. "You can get aggressive and attack him more."
Posey, like Kemp, has been on fire in the second half, helping drive San Francisco into position for a shot at a third World Series title in five years. A .311 hitter, he has 20 homers and 84 RBIs, leading his team in all three departments, and is slugging .490 with a .363 on-base percentage.
Head to head with Kershaw, however, Posey has struggled, putting him in the company of the vast majority of his brothers in the fraternity of hitters. He's batting .196 with one homer, two walks and 12 strikeouts in 56 at-bats against the Los Angeles master.
"It's never personal," Kershaw said of his duel with Posey, the 2012 NL MVP Award winner. "I have a lot of respect for Buster, the way he plays the game. He's obviously a very good hitter. I made two mistakes -- one with a man in scoring position and the other he lined out [to center in the sixth]."
Kershaw even matched Posey in base hits with a single in the seventh, but -- just like Buster -- he was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.
Puig, moving swiftly to his right and unleashing a strong, accurate throw to second, nailed Posey to short-circuit a possible big inning in the third with Pence on deck.
"When I ran to first, I didn't pick it up great," Posey said. "He made a good play on it. I don't feel like it was a terrible mistake; I think if the throw is off line a little bit, I'm safe."
Posey was being aggressive in the manner of Hanley Ramirez, whose legs and aggression led to the Dodgers' first two runs in the second on his infield hit, Juan Uribe's single to right and a pair of Giants errors.
Posey's aggression, to be sure, didn't beat the Giants. That was the work of Kershaw, whose San Francisco roadblock served to enhance his MVP profile.