Clayton Kershaw was just a tad focused Friday night, like the sun is just a little hot.
He had turned leads over to the bullpen twice in his last two starts, only for it to blow both and ultimately lose the games in the 10th inning. Ever the fierce competitor, he came out laser focused Friday and went to work on the Cubs like they were threatening his family.
He turned in a dominating effort, holding the Cubs to three hits in eight innings while striking out 14 and leading the Dodgers to a 4-1 victory before a Dodger Stadium crowd of 44,874.
This time Kenley Jansen protected the lead in the ninth inning, retiring the Cubs in order for his 26th save.
After an un-Kershaw start to the season, he is closing like the man who has won three Cy Young Awards in the last four years. In his last 10 starts, Kershaw is 6-0 with a 0.92 ERA, 96 strikeouts and just eight walks.
On the season, he raised his record to 11-6 and lowered his ERA to 2.24. This was the 11th time this season he struck out 10 or more in a start.
The 14 strikeouts match his season high, though the Cubs must have set a new standard for walking away from the plate with heads shaking.
Using their Philly connection, the Dodgers opened the scoring with a run in the third inning. Jimmy Rollins singled with one out and scored from first when Chase Utley tripled to right-center field. Utley took third on the throw home, but Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turned flied out.
The Cubs got the run back real quick. With one out in the fourth inning, Anthony Rizzo crushed a 3-2 Kershaw fastball, sending it well beyond the center-field wall. For Rizzo, a left-handed hitter, it was his 26th home run of the season.
It remained a 1-1 game until the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Dodgers scored three times, aided by some Jason Hammel wildness and aggressive base running by Utley.
Utley started the rally innocently enough with a leadoff walk. Gonzalez singled him to second, and then things got a tad crazy. Hammel bounced a curve in front of the plate and Utley broke for third base. But catcher Miguel Montero caught the ball on a bounce and fired to third – only wide of third baseman Kris Bryant.
The ball went off his glove, and although it died a few feet up the grass, new third base coach Ron Roenicke waved Utley home. He scored without a throw and Gonzalez took second. Hammel unleashed a second wild pitch to advance Gonzalez to third and Justin Turner walked.
That was enough for Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, who took Hammel out in favor of left-hander Travis Wood. Pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke bounced into a double play, scoring Gonzalez. That should have been it, but Carl Crawford singled and Yasmani Grandal walked to put Wood in trouble. Enrique Hernandez singled to center to score Crawford and the Dodgers had given Kershaw a 4-1 lead.
Kershaw with a three-run lead must be an almost scary thing. He set the Cubs down in order in the eighth. And this time, Jansen made it hold up.