The eight shutout innings Clayton Kershaw pitched Saturday didn’t erase what happened in October.
Perhaps that was why Kershaw offered only a one-word response when he was asked if the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory that night was any more meaningful because it was over the St. Louis Cardinals.
“No,” he said.
However Kershaw perceived the significance of the game, most of the baseball world viewed it as his first start of the year against the team responsible for postseason defeats that threatened to redefine his legacy.
If the triumph obliterated the notion that Kershaw was somehow traumatized by the Cardinals, it also marked a celebratory return for All-Star right fielder Yasiel Puig, who drove in a run and scored another in his first game back from a six-week stay on the disabled list.
Puig, who was previously sidelined because of a strained left hamstring, doubled to right-center field off Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia in the seventh inning to drive in Chris Heisey and break a 0-0 stalemate. Later in the inning, he went from second to home on a single by Justin Turner that hit the glove of diving second baseman Kolten Wong and slowly rolled into center field.
The two runs were more than enough for Kershaw, who limited the Cardinals to one hit. Of the three other Cardinals who reached base, two walked and one was hit by a pitch.
Eight months earlier, Kershaw was beaten twice by the Cardinals in a National League division series.
He was charged with eight runs in 62/3 innings in a Game 1 defeat. He served up a three-run home run to blow a two-run lead in the seventh inning of a Game 4 loss.
The previous year, Kershaw’s season also ended with an October loss to the Cardinals.
“We know there’s a lot of history between the clubs, between Clayton and the Cardinals,” catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Still, Ellis downplayed Kershaw’s personal rivalry with the Cardinals.
“Definitely overblown,” Ellis said.
For Kershaw, the start was the fourth in a row in which he pitched seven or more innings.
“It’s really a continual march for Clayton,” Manager Don Mattingly said. “The last few, really, the results have been kind of like this.”
Mattingly was equally pleased with Puig’s return to the lineup. Puig hadn’t played for the Dodgers since April 24.
Puig started in right field and batted third.
Though the Dodgers played well in the initial stages of Puig’s time on the disabled list, Mattingly said his absence had become noticeable in recent days.
“Over the last 10 days, we really felt we missed him in the lineup,” Mattingly said. “You can survive two weeks, three weeks, a month. But when you start getting into long-term is really when you end up in trouble when you don’t have your guys. You start taxing other players, you start putting them in matchups you don’t like because it’s what you have to do. Really, that’s the situation here.”
The Dodgers had dropped seven of their previous 10 games, including the first two games of this series. They played the Cardinals three times in St. Louis last week and lost twice.
The Cardinals are one of only three teams with records of .500 or better whom the Dodgers have played. The San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres are the others.
Entering Saturday night, the Dodgers were 9-14 against those teams.
Mattingly thought Puig’s absence had something to do with that.
The manager pointed to how Puig had played in only 11 games before he was placed on the DL with a strained left hamstring. Left fielder Carl Crawford, who is sidelined because of a torn side muscle, has played in only 15 games.
“We haven’t been able to mix and match the way we’ve wanted to,” Mattingly said.