Clayton Kershaw applies the clincher for Dodgers
The closer the Dodgers moved to the division title Wednesday night, the louder the fans at Dodger Stadium chanted.
By the time Clayton Kershaw walked off the field in the eighth inning with a four-run lead, the call of the crowd was deafening.
Kershaw will have to wait another month to learn if he’ll be the first pitcher in 46 years to be named the National League’s most valuable player. But as for the NL West championship, it’s already his.
The Dodgers secured their second consecutive division title, as Kershaw struck out 11 in eight innings in a 9-1 victory over the second-place San Francisco Giants.
“It’s pretty fun, wasn’t it?” Kershaw said to the fans over the stadium’s public-address system.
Kershaw finished the season with a 21-3 record and 1.77 earned-run average, the best marks in baseball. When the regular season ends in four days, he will be the first pitcher to lead the major leagues in ERA in four consecutive seasons.
Even though he missed the entire month of April with a strained back muscle, he now leads the NL in strikeouts with 239.
“MVP, obviously,” first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said.
The victory, coupled with a loss by the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals, guaranteed the Dodgers home-field advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
“It’s the first step,” Kershaw said. “We know that.”
That means Kershaw’s next start will be Oct. 3, when the Dodgers open the NL division series at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw’s latest performance was a testament to his character. Kershaw limited the Giants to a run over eight innings, but threw a season-high 117 pitches. The eight hits he gave up were the most for him since he pitched a complete game against the Atlanta Braves on July 31.
Kershaw also drove in the Dodgers’ first run, as his two-out triple in the fifth inning drove in Carl Crawford and tied the score, 1-1.
Much as Kershaw refused to buckle to the Giants, the Dodgers refused to waste their ace’s Herculean effort.
The Dodgers broke the 1-1 stalemate in the sixth inning by scoring four runs, the first on an opposite-field home run by Yasiel Puig off Giants starter Tim Hudson. Carl Crawford doubled in two runs off left-hander Javier Lopez and Juan Uribe singled off Jean Machi to drive in Crawford, increasing the advantage to 5-1.
“When Clayton pitches, everyone turns it up a notch, everyone goes just a little harder because everyone wants to live up to his standard,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “Everyone is getting down and dirty and going hard all the time. People who don’t think a pitcher can be MVP don’t realize what kind of unifying force he is in our clubhouse.’'
The Dodgers fell behind, 1-0, in the third inning.
Joaquin Arias led off the inning with an infield single, as shortstop Hanley Ramirez was unable to make a play to his backhand side. Gregor Blanco followed with a single to left field, after which Kershaw balked. The Giants suddenly had runners on second and third base.
Hunter Pence hit a slow roller to third baseman Juan Uribe, who elected to throw home instead of first base. Arias beat the ball to the plate and the Giants were ahead, 1-0.
But the Dodgers wondered if Arias might have missed the plate and Mattingly emerged from the dugout to speak with home plate umpire Chad Fairchild.
Mattingly returned to the bench without asking for the play to be reviewed. He couldn’t. By then, Kershaw was back on the rubber and the next hitter, Joe Panik, was in the batter’s box.
Panik singled to load the bases for Buster Posey, the former NL most valuable player, but Posey grounded into an inning-ending double play. That at-bat marked only the third time this season that Kershaw has faced a batter with the bases loaded. Opponents are 0 for 3.
As Kershaw spoke to Mattingly and bench coach Tim Wallach in the middle of the inning, he was approached by Ramirez, who tapped himself on the chest as if to blame himself for allowing Arias to reach base. Kershaw patted Ramirez on the rear.
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