The memento rested inside a Ziploc bag in Clayton Kershaw’s locker. Ink scrawled across the plastic denoted the milestone, the 2,000th strikeout of Kershaw’s career, a keepsake from a 2-1 Dodgers victory over the Brewers. Drained after logging seven innings in a game that lasted 12, Kershaw struggled to find the perspective for his achievement.
“I don’t take it for granted,” Kershaw said. “But I also don’t think about it. I don’t know how to quantify it, I guess. It’ll be cool some day.”
His milestone underscored the theme of the evening, a night of watching hitters flail and pitchers miss bats. Led by Kershaw’s season-high 14 strikeouts, the Dodgers tied a major league record for one game with 26. Kenley Jansen set a major league record for striking out 39 batters to start a season without allowing a walk. And the two teams combined to tie a National League record with 42 strikeouts.
If you enjoy failure, this was the game for you. But it looked like a night of bitterness for the Dodgers (34-22) before Yasmani Grandal intervened in the ninth. A solo shot by Grandal took Kershaw off the hook for giving up a homer to Domingo Santana two innings earlier. Cody Bellinger recovered from a three-punchout night to supply the winner in the 12th off Brewers reliever Neftali Feliz.
After the game, Bellinger received a message from his father. Clay Bellinger hit 12 homers in parts of four seasons in the majors. His son has matched his total in 36 games. “He just said, ‘Congrats, it took me a lot longer,’” Bellinger said.
Inside the visitors clubhouse at Miller Park, the smiles were tinged with exhaustion.
The game lasted three minutes shy of four hours. Jansen logged two innings, haggling with manager Dave Roberts about returning for the 12th after Bellinger went deep. Roberts credited Jansen for his unselfishness, caring less about saves and more about keeping the team upright.
The combination of the bullpen and the late homers reduced some of Kershaw’s frustration for how his night ended. Save for one pitch to Santana, his outing was pristine. He recorded his 2,000th strikeout in the second inning. A 94-mph fastball soared up and away from Brewers second baseman Jonathan Villar. The location did not deter Villar, who hacked and touched only the air. Grandal gave the baseball to a ballboy, who handed it to an authenticator.
Kershaw did not celebrate the achievement. He grabbed another ball and returned to work. For much of the night, he operated like a man in a hurry to reach 3,000 strikeouts. “It was a joy to watch,” Roberts said.
“I’m glad to be a part of a Hall of Fame career,” Jansen said. “I’m proud to see the best in the game, probably the greatest in the game, right now. That was amazing.”
The evening started with stress. On his first pitch of the game, a 93-mph fastball, Kershaw whipped his head around to watch a double by Brewers outfielder Keon Broxton. Kershaw walked the next batter, former Korean Baseball Organization star Eric Thames, on a questionable full-count fastball. Then Kershaw fell behind in the count to first baseman Jesus Aguilar.
A pair of sliders fooled Aguilar for a crucial strikeout. After a first-pitch popup, Kershaw fanned Santana with a curveball to strand both runners. From there, he locked into a groove.
“He was unbelievable,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what else to say. He was lights out. He had command of everything.”
To open the second, Kershaw spotted an 0-2 fastball on the outer edge against catcher Manny Pina. He reached 2,000 in the next at-bat. In the third, he struck out the side in 12 pitches.
The distance from the plate to the mound spans 60 feet and six inches. When Aguilar returned to bat in the fourth, Kershaw spiked a curveball that bounced after only about 55 feet. Aguilar could not check his swing. The strikeout padded Kershaw’s resume, should he ever transition to cricket.
Kershaw racked up four more strikeouts, all looking, in the fourth, fifth and sixth. He had retired 20 batters in a row when Santana came up in the seventh.
Kershaw tried a 1-0 fastball. The pitch was supposed to cuff Santana on the hands. It leaked a few inches away from its target. Santana scorched a drive over the fence in left.
Upon impact, Kershaw covered his head with his hands and crumpled into a crouch. His fury was palpable. It would take a few innings, but his teammates picked him up.
When Kershaw returned to his locker, the baseball from the 2,000th strikeout awaited him. He understood its importance, if he preferred not to dwell on it.
“Definitely cool,” Kershaw said. “I’ll try to not forget it and leave it in Milwaukee.”
Follow Andy McCullough on Twitter @McCulloughTimes