Column

Clayton Kershaw is clearly the No. 1 pitcher in duel with Zack Greinke

Admit it, for the three seasons Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke were the Dodgers’ historically great one-two punch, there were occasions you wondered.

Who was one? Who was two?

Their first duel as opponents Friday night at Dodger Stadium reminded everyone of the folly of such wonder, illuminating the pitchers’ time together while providing closure on their separation.

Kershaw was the one punch. Greinke was the one punched out.

Kershaw was at his emotional best, leaping off the mound, pointing to teammates, holding the Diamondbacks to one run and four hits in 81/3 innings with eight strikeouts.

Greinke was at his confused worst, falling behind in counts, hanging pitches thrown with seemingly little purpose, allowing the Dodgers five runs and 10 scalding hits in five innings.

The final score was 7-1, and the final message was clear.

Around here, Kershaw is still the one and only punch that matters.

“It was really fun to watch,” said Andrew Toles, who completed the Dodgers’ scoring with a two-run homer in the eighth. “Kershaw was out there, doing his thing, and you’re thinking, you just don’t want to be the guy messing it up.”

Kershaw was brilliant, he was tough and then, unsurprisingly, when he finished two outs short of throwing his first complete game since he suffered his back injury last June, he was mad.

One out after allowing a leadoff single to Chris Iannetta in the ninth, Kershaw gave up a line drive to Chris Owings that skipped beyond the reach of Joc Pederson in right-center field, scoring Iannetta and bringing Manager Dave Roberts out of the dugout.

Kershaw couldn’t look at him, wouldn’t look at him. When he finally handed Roberts the ball, Kershaw stared straight ahead and walked slowly off the mound.

The Dodger Stadium crowd stood and cheered, and Kershaw just walked and stared, until finally the pitcher acknowledged them by touching his cap. But then moments later, he threw that cap on the dugout bench and briefly disappeared down the dugout tunnel.

But, sure enough, he returned to lead the Dodgers’ congratulations parade out of the dugout afterward. He wanted this one bad. And even though he didn’t finish it, he finished Greinke.

“I felt fine, but you can’t give up hits in the ninth inning if you want to finish,” said Kershaw, who threw 100 pitches. “I understood it, but obviously, if you get that close, you want to finish for sure.”

The night began with Sandy Koufax in the stands and thick anticipation in the chilly air.

It was the richest pitching matchup in major league history, with the two pitchers combining to make $67 million this season with nearly identical salaries. And both of them earned that money as Dodgers.

During their years together here from 2013 to 2015, the two pitchers combined to go 104-34 with a 2.10 ERA, two Cy Young awards, one runner-up, and one third place.

Kershaw took the mound with the second-best ERA in Dodger Stadium history at 1.98, while Greinke was tied for third at 2.19.

All this and, oh yeah, they eventually became good friends.

“Zack was here for three years, we got pretty close, our kids are close to the same age, we got pretty close there, a little bit weird, a rare case, I guess,” Kershaw said.

Yet once the game started, they never looked at each other except when facing each other at the plate, and even then, it seemed they barely looked up. Neither man even made decent contact, with Greinke striking out looking while Kershaw grounded into a double play and grounded out to the pitcher.

“It’s not a lot of fun to face guys you know and consider as friend,” Kershaw said. ‘We did a good job against him tonight, made him battle, didn’t really give him any easy outs.”

While most Dodgers fans already realized that management made the right decision by letting Greinke walk to Arizona two winters ago for $206.5 million over six years — the Dodgers came within two wins of a World Series appearance without him last fall — this game offered some small validation of that belief.

Kershaw stayed strong throughout while Greinke, who never seemed rattled when he pitched with Kershaw, was clearly rattled when facing him.

Greinke was messy, scattered, and, when he came to the plate to face Kershaw in the third, man, was booed. While this peformance was similar to others in his struggling debut season in Arizona last season, many thought that his 2.31 ERA in his first two starts this season indicated that he had finally settled down.

Maybe. Just not here. Just not now.

Kershaw, meanwhile, used the moment to gaudily unwrap his best start in three appearances this year, holding the Diamondbacks hitless until a scorching line drive up the middle by Owings in the fourth inning nearly separated him from his head.

He still seemed a bit unnerved as he proceeded to walk Paul Goldschmidt and then throw a pitch that bounced halfway to home plate, allowing both runners to advance while Kershaw leaped off the mound in frustration.

But as suddenly as he seemed to lose it, he found it again, inducing Brandon Drury into an inning-ending grounder to Justin Turner that so excited him, he pumped his fist and pointed happily to the third baseman in thanks.

Kershaw has now won his last nine decisions at Dodger Stadium dating back to last May, but few seemed as big as this one.

“He’s always focused, so I don’t if tonight he was more … you know, I don’t know, I’m not inside his brain,” Toles said with a grin.

Regardless, it appeared Kershaw was inside Greinke’s head, and that was enough. The star finally stared down the sidekick, and yes, there is a difference.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke's work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
74°