NEW YORK -- Tapped twice on his chest by Manager Joe Torre, Clayton Kershaw left the mound, his quick removal a reminder that the prized gem of the Dodgers’ farm system is only 20 years old and has plenty to learn.
But what Torre called “another day in the classroom” for Kershaw didn’t come at the expense of the outcome of the game, as Chan Ho Park pitched 3 1/3 solid innings out of the bullpen and the slumping offense broke loose for five runs in the eighth inning to lift the Dodgers to a 9-5 win over the New York Mets at Shea Stadium on Friday night.
The victory, which ended a four-game losing streak, was only the second for the Dodgers in their last eight games, but it was enough to get them to within 2 1/2 games of first-place Arizona in the NL West.
Kershaw, who gave up four runs, five hits and four walks over 3 2/3 tempestuous innings, forced a smile when told the Dodgers were 2-0 on days he started.
“Try to win next time not in spite of me but because of me,” he said.
Next time will be Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, as Torre said Kershaw would remain in the rotation as the team’s fifth starter.
The lesson learned on this night, Kershaw said, was to try to not overthrow his fastball when in trouble. His doing so negated a rare three-run first inning by the Dodgers that included back-to-back doubles from James Loney and Russell Martin.
Kershaw served up a two-run home run to Luis Castillo in the first and three consecutive walks followed by a sacrifice fly by Carlos Beltran that tied the score at 3-3 in the fourth.
Martin hit a home run in the fourth, but the one-run margin was erased in the bottom of the inning, which Kershaw started by giving up three singles in a row.
Park (2-1) got the Dodgers out of the fourth and put up a pair of zeros before giving up a run in the seventh when Ramon Castro hit a broken-bat comebacker that deflected off Park and squibbed to third baseman Blake DeWitt. DeWitt couldn’t get the ball out of his glove in time and instead of nailing David Wright at home, had to settle for throwing Castro out at first.
That gave the Mets a 5-4 lead going into the Dodgers’ eighth, which Juan Pierre started with a disputed infield single. Pierre scored on a double by Matt Kemp, which was followed by successive hits from Jeff Kent, Loney and Martin. Reliever Aaron Heilman was charged with four of the runs.
What pleased Torre most was how of the Dodgers’ six hits in the inning, three came with two strikes. Among them was one by Martin, who said shortening his swing on two-strike counts was what helped him get over his early-season slump. Third base coach Larry Bowa said he “loves” Martin’s swing with two strikes.
“I hate it when he’s 2-0, 3-1,” Bowa said. “He gets too long. He’s such a good hitter that his eyes light up when he’s 2-0 or 3-1.”
Martin, who added that he started using a longer bat on the Dodgers’ trip to Milwaukee two weeks ago, was four for four and raised his average to .326.
Bowa was quick to warn that maturation isn’t something that occurs overnight, that it will take time for the kind of at-bats the youngsters had in the eighth inning to occur with greater frequency.
That being said, Bowa noted that he told the players in a team meeting Thursday to stop using their ages as a crutch.
“Tampa Bay is young,” Bowa said he told them. “Florida’s young. Arizona’s young.”