The Dodgers' 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night presented as convincing a case as any as to why Clayton Kershaw might be the most valuable player in the National League.
Replacing a sore-elbowed Zack Greinke as the starting pitcher in the final game of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium, Kershaw limited the visitors to a run and three hits over eight innings to set up a late deficit-reversing two-run home run by Justin Turner.
Kershaw improved to 15-3, allowing the Dodgers to extend their lead over the second-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West to 31/2 games. The victory was crucial, considering the Dodgers had dropped four of their previous five games as they played with a roster depleted by injuries.
"That's just par for the course for him," Turner said. "I think we all know what we're going to get from him every time he goes out there. He's a competitor. I can't say enough about him and the job he's done for us all year."
In Turner's eyes, Kershaw is the league's most valuable player.
"Why not?" Turner said. "Whenever he has the ball, he's the best player on the field. He's got my vote."
If Kershaw's performance was the most important, Turner's was certainly the most dramatic.
Turner's eighth-inning home run produced the only runs the Dodgers scored against Padres starter Tyson Ross.
The Dodgers hadn't won a game in which they trailed after seven innings. Until Thursday night, they were 0-46 in such games.
"We were aware of it too," Turner said. "That's all we were talking about."
Kershaw was originally scheduled to start Friday instead of Thursday. But with Greinke dealing with a sore elbow, the Dodgers elected to push back Greinke's start by two days and move up Kershaw's by one.
Because the Dodgers didn't play Monday, Kershaw pitched on regular four-days' rest. Predictably, he was his regular dominant self.
Kershaw no-hit the Padres through 52/3 innings. The first hit he gave up was to Ross, the pitcher, who lined a 1-1 fastball into left-center field for a single.
Until then, the only Padres player to reach base was Rene Rivera, who drew a one-out walk in the second inning. Kershaw forced the next batter, Rymer Liriano, to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Kershaw pitched a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies on June 18. Asked whether the thought of pitching another entered his mind, he laughed and replied, "The fifth inning is not quite far enough. Sixth or seventh inning, the fans will let you know.
"I gave up a hit to a pitcher, so I guess it wasn't my night."
The last pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a single regular season was Nolan Ryan, who did it with the Angels in 1973. Roy Halladay tossed a pair of no-hitters for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, one in the regular season and another in the NL division series.
Kershaw praised Ross, who held the Dodgers to two hits over the first seven innings. Carl Crawford reached base in the eighth inning on an infield single that hit the top of Ross' glove. Turner followed that by driving the ball over the left-field wall.
"Tyson, he's really, really good," Kershaw said. "I knew I was in for a battle tonight."
Kershaw will make his next start on five-days' rest. The Dodgers don't play Monday, meaning Kershaw won't have to pitch again until they face the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday at Chase Field.
Aside from the victory, there were other uplifting developments for the Dodgers.
Sidelined shortstop Hanley Ramirez took early batting practice, convincing Manager Don Mattingly he will be ready to play Sunday, when he is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list. Also, Hyun-Jin Ryu tossed the ball off a mound, an indication his strained buttock muscle is recovering.