The fastball is no longer all that fast. In a game increasingly dominated by strikeouts, Clayton Kershaw relies on a mix of pitches, the ability to throw them to a precise spot, and the cooperation of his fielders in converting batted balls into outs.
When Kershaw came off the field after his sixth and final inning Saturday, he found Max Muncy in the dugout and offered him a pat in consolation and some supportive words. Muncy is one of the brightest lights in this Dodgers season, but on this day there were no highlights for the third baseman.
Muncy made a fielding error and a throwing error, and he could have been charged with another throwing error. Yasmani Grandal got in the way of a batter and was charged with an error. The Dodgers twice loaded the bases, once with none out, and did not score either time.
Kershaw gave up one earned run — a home run by Christian Yelich, on a 90-mph fastball — and three unearned runs. Only in the line score can this defeat be pinned on Kershaw.
But defeated the Dodgers were, 4-2, by the Milwaukee Brewers.
“The sixth inning just spun out of control,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “All night long, we just didn’t play a clean game.”
Brewers fans greeted All-Star pitcher Josh Hader with a standing ovation in his first appearance since tweets with racist and homophobic content from his teen years surfaced during the All-Star game. Hader has since apologized.
He pitched two scoreless innings, striking out the side in the eighth inning.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, nursing a strained groin, said he expected to make his first start since July 11 on Sunday.
“When J.T. is in the lineup, we’re considerably better, offensively and defensively,” Roberts said.
Muncy, who would yield third base to Turner, remained at his locker and waited for reporters to finish other interviews rather than leave the clubhouse without taking questions. Turner, who once committed three errors in an inning here, said Muncy could shake off the bad night.
“It’s something that happens to all of us,” Turner said. “Just try to forget about it as soon as possible, and go back out there and help us win games. He’s helped us win way more games than he’s going to cost us.”
Grandal cost the Dodgers a run in the second inning, when Ryan Braun reached on catcher’s interference and came around to score the Brewers’ first run.
The other three came in the sixth, when Kershaw took the mound with a 2-1 lead. Yelich homered. One out later, Braun doubled.
Kershaw got the second out and appeared to have the third when Manny Pina tapped a soft ground ball toward third base. Muncy charged but the ball scooted under his glove.
He could have trapped, deflected or knocked down the ball, and Braun would have had to hold at third. He could have fielded the ball cleanly, and Kershaw would have been out of the inning, with the score tied.
“I was just trying to get to the ball in the air,” Muncy said. “I felt like I took a good angle to it. When it came down to it, I just missed it. No excuses.”
Braun scored on Muncy’s error, and Keon Broxton followed with a triple. The Brewers had a 4-2 lead on two unearned runs, although Kershaw had given up three extra-base hits in the inning.
“Max has played very well for us defensively … one of those things,” Roberts said. “Just a tough night for him. He works hard. He prepares. Unfortunately, with Clayton on the mound, we just didn’t get it done.”
Kershaw gave up seven hits, striking out five. In 2015, when he last led the majors in strikeouts, he led the NL with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. This season figure is 9.2 per nine innings, just cracking the top 10 in the NL and the top 25 in the majors.