Returning to the place where he pitched what was arguably the worst game of his career, Clayton Kershaw became baseball's first 16-game winner Wednesday night.
Kershaw limited the Arizona Diamondbacks to one unearned run over eight innings in a 3-1 victory that sealed the sweep of a two-game set at Chase Field. The Dodgers remained five games ahead of the second-place San Francisco Giants in the National League West.
Considering Kershaw's history, what unfolded was entirely predictable. He rarely follows a disappointing start with another. He seems to be motivated by unpleasant memories rather than be haunted by them.
Kershaw's last start here, on May 17, was an absolute disaster. Pitching for the third time since returning from the disabled list, Kershaw was battered for seven earned runs in only 12/3 innings.
That day marked the turning point of Kershaw's season, which is expected to end with a Cy Young Award, perhaps even a most-valuable-player award.
Since then, Kershaw is 14-2 with a 1.29 earned-run average.
For the season, Kershaw is 16-3 with a 1.73 ERA and the Dodgers are 18-4 when he starts. If not for his first start at Chase Field, Kershaw's ERA would be 1.35.
"I'm sure getting kicked around a little bit is going to fuel him," Manager Don Mattingly said. "He's not going to talk about it."
Mattingly was right. Kershaw downplayed any links between his start Wednesday and the one here three months ago, pointing to how the Diamondbacks are a completely different team.
"I don't know how many people were in the lineup from the last start," Kershaw said. "It wasn't much."
In fact, there were only three: Cliff Pennington, Alfredo Marte and Tuffy Gosewisch.
All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt broke his hand this month and will miss the remainder of the season.
Still, Kershaw encountered trouble.
"It was a bad start, really," he said. "I felt like guys were on base the whole night. Working in and out of jams is never fun to do."
Kershaw walked the first batter he faced, Ender Inciarte, on four pitches.
"Hopefully, I don't do that any more," Kershaw said.
In the third inning, Kershaw walked Pennington to load the bases. That marked the first time this season that Kershaw loaded the bases.
"I blew that streak, I guess," Kershaw said, smiling.
With some help from their outfield turf, the Diamondbacks scored in the fourth inning. A double by Marte was followed by a single to left-center field by Jordan Pacheco. The ball bounced off diving center fielder Yasiel Puig but was promptly retrieved by left fielder Scott Van Slyke, who sprained his ankle while throwing it back to the infield. Van Slyke was charged with a throwing error on the play, which resulted in Marte scoring.
Kershaw settled down to retire 15 of the next 17 batters he faced.
He gave up a leadoff triple to Inciarte in the fifth inning, but stranded him by retiring the next three batters. He struck out the side in the seventh inning and fanned 10 overall.
If the prospect of facing Kershaw or Zack Greinke isn't intimidating enough, opposing teams will soon have to also deal with Hyun-Jin Ryu. The South Korean left-hander pitched two simulated innings before the game Wednesday and is expected to rejoin the rotation Sunday or Monday. Ryu has been sidelined with a strained right buttock muscle.