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Incomparable Kershaw earns fitting victory in clincher

LOS ANGELES -- It was a really nifty storyline the Dodgers had at their disposal Wednesday night. It was even better after they made it come true. Here were the Dodgers, playing their traditional rivals, the Giants, with a chance to clinch the National League West championship. Not only that, the Dodgers' starter was the best pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw.

With all due respect to the rest of the Los Angeles roster, a talented albeit sometimes expensive, crew, Kershaw is the biggest difference maker on the squad. He was the difference again Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.

A 9-1 victory put an end to the NL West race. That 9-1 score doesn't necessarily suggest that the work of the winning starting pitcher was essential. But this one got out of hand late. When the game was still a game, Kershaw made the difference for the Dodgers.

"This guy's the best in the game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I mean, look at his numbers. I don't know if there's a more deserving MVP [candidate]. Forget Cy Young, when you look at what he's done for them, their club, the year he's had. These are stupid numbers that he's put up."

In the champagne-soaked premises of the Dodgers' clubhouse after the game, general manager Ned Colletti put a context around Kershaw's greatness.

"I think he's as special as anybody we'll see," Colletti said. "You take the whole man, who he is on the field, who he is off the field, how he competes. The great ones can field their position. We saw that tonight. The great ones can help themselves with their bat. We saw that tonight. That's a remarkable characteristic, and it's remarkable in that he's somebody who's probably as good as we're ever going to see."

The 10 lowest ERAs by qualifying pitchers since 1969:
Dwight Gooden, Mets 1985 1.53
Greg Maddux, Braves 1994 1.56
Greg Maddux, Braves 1995 1.63
Nolan Ryan, Astros 1981 1.69
Ron Guidry, Yankees 1978 1.74
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox 2000 1.74
Tom Seaver, Mets 1971 1.76
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 2014 1.77
Vida Blue, A's 1971 1.82
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers 2013 1.83

Kershaw is 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, his ERA the lowest by any qualifying pitcher since Pedro Martinez posted a 1.74 mark for Boston in 2000, and the eighth-lowest ERA by any qualifier since 1969, when the mound was lowered. The seven pitcher seasons ahead of Kershaw, starting from the top, are Dwight Gooden (1.53, 1985), Greg Maddux (1.56, 1994), Greg Maddux (1.63, 1995), Nolan Ryan (1.69, 1981), Ron Guidry (1.74, 1978), Pedro Martinez (1.74, 2000), and Tom Seaver (1.76, 1971).

And beyond the usual superb pitching -- eight innings, one run allowed, no walks and 11 strikeouts -- Kershaw produced another sort of MVP moment in the fifth inning when the outcome was still very much in doubt.

With two out and a runner on third, trailing the Giants, 1-0, Kershaw pounded a ball to right-center. It split the outfielders and just kept rolling through the outfield. Kershaw, running with a considerable amount of high-knee action, not only had an RBI, but the first triple of his career.

"That was just huge," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "[San Francisco starter Tim] Hudson was throwing a lot of offspeed, we weren't really getting him in the strike zone. That thing just changed the whole game. It got us back to even. From there, [Kershaw] just kind of took over."

For good measure, Kershaw also fielded a hard-hit grounder behind his back, throwing to first to turn an up-the-middle single into an out.

The rest of the Dodgers eventually got their bats involved and scored four runs in the sixth, stretching their margin further in the eighth when the Giants struggled to throw strikes.

There was a time this season when Los Angeles trailed San Francisco by 9 1/2 games. Wednesday night that seemed like another lifetime.

"They've had a great year," Bochy said of the Dodgers. "Donnie [Mattingly] has done a great job."

When the rest of the baseball world talks about the Dodgers, it generally focuses on the impressive talent. When Colletti discusses the virtues of his club, that's only a part of the equation.

"We're a resilient group. We're a talented group," the general manager said.

Coming back off the deck earlier this season supports that notion about being resilient. But what the Dodgers also have that sets them apart is Clayton Kershaw, period.

So what occurred Wednesday night was success for an extremely talented Los Angeles team being led by the best starting pitcher in baseball. The division-clinching victory over the Giants was sweet for Dodgers. But it was also a completely logical outcome.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for
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