Clayton Kershaw shuffled from the clubhouse to the dugout and back, trying to keep his legs fresh as his teammates behaved like first-inning bullies. For 10 at-bats and 43 pitches in opening frame of a 12-1 victory over the Mariners, the Dodgers hounded Seattle starter Roenis Elias. The group built a five-run lead, one which Kershaw kept safe en route to the team’s first series victory in August.
The Dodgers (67-58) ended the day where they began: third place in the National League West, two games behind Arizona with Colorado sandwiched in between. The team gained no ground. But it rebounded from a gut-wrenching defeat the night before and boarded a flight back to Los Angeles with something resembling momentum.
“It’s now or never,” Kershaw said. “We’re in a three-team race right now. We better start playing. We better get good.”
The team fulfilled that goal Sunday. After hanging five runs on Elias in the first, the offense did not let up. Justin Turner reached base five times, a one-man flurry which included a three-run homer off Seattle infielder Andrew Romine in the ninth. Turner drove in five runs and Enrique Hernandez drove in three. Cody Bellinger recorded four hits and Brian Dozier got on four times.
Kershaw kept the Mariners from truly threatening. He struck out seven and scattered four hits in seven innings of one-run ball. In his past five outings, he has struck out 32 batters, walked three and produced a 1.82 earned-run average. His ERA since returning from the disabled list in late June is 2.14.
“He’s as good a competitor as I’ve ever seen,” manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s pretty special. Whatever he does on a baseball field, no surprise to us.”
The offense resembled a storm, and it exceeded the 11-run barrage unleashed Friday evening at Safeco Field. In between, of course, the Dodgers suffered the sort of loss which had become all too common this month.
In the past two weeks, the Dodgers had lost their grip on first place in the division. They dropped two of three to Houston to start the month, split a two-game series with Oakland and then saw their bullpen implode with Kenley Jansen recovering from heart issues. The bullpen blew late-game leads in seven consecutive games, with the Dodgers losing five times.
On Saturday, Dylan Floro balked in the winning run in the 10th inning of the team’s ninth loss in 14 games. The Dodgers resided in third place in the division, and they would remain there regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
“Whether it be driving in a run, whether it be putting a team away, whether it be getting an out when we need to, or a play defensively — we’re not executing,” Roberts said before the game. “And in turn, we’re not winning games that we should probably win. And that’s just the bottom line.”
Roberts reiterated his belief the Dodgers would collect a sixth consecutive division title. He leaned on the number of games left in the season. The schedule features 37 more after Sunday, long enough for the Dodgers to offset their five-month malaise.
“The goal right now is figuring out how to be on the right end of the one-run, close games,” Turner said. “This is something that this lineup is capable of doing fairly often, and I think if you look at our run differential, you’ll see that. But winning the close games is something we’re going to have to do a better job of.”
They settled for a trouncing Sunday. The group overwhelmed Elias with patience and well-placed hits. The Dodgers assembled their offensive bounty without needing an extra-base hit.
The first three batters of the game loaded the bases on a single by Dozier, a walk by Turner and a single by Manny Machado. After Matt Kemp grounded into a force-out at the plate, Bellinger pulled a 93-mph fastball into right field for a two-run single.
Kemp hustled from first to third on Bellinger’s hit. He received applause at the bag from third-base coach Chris Woodward. Kemp scored with ease when Hernandez roped an RBI single beyond the reach of former Dodger Dee Gordon at shortstop.
There were two runners aboard when Yasiel Puig came up. Elias aimed to finish the at-bat with a full-count, two-seam fastball. The pitch clocked at 88 mph and dove for the outside corner. Puig reached out and punched it into right for a two-RBI single.
Elias left after three innings. The Dodgers treated his replacement, reliever Chasen Bradford, in similar fashion. The team squeezed a run out of Bradford in the fourth when Hernandez walked with the bases loaded.
“We did a good job of getting to him early, getting Kersh a little breathing room so he can just go out there and just attack guys,” Turner said.
Kershaw had little interest in jeopardizing the lead. He gave up only a single in his first turn through the order, and struck out three in the first three innings.
Seattle mounted a threat in the fourth. Kershaw gave up a two-out double to Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, who yanked a slider just inside the right-field line. Seattle first baseman Ryon Healy followed Seager by stroking an RBI single up the middle.
The Dodgers responded by manufacturing a seventh run in the fifth. Dozier took a two-out walk and stole second base against Bradford. Turner hit a popup into shallow right field that outfielder Mitch Haniger could not glove. Dozier loped home.
In the sixth, the team scored in more familiar fashion. Bradford heaved a slider over the plate. Hernandez clubbed a solo home run, his 18th of the season. Turner supplied another RBI single in the seventh and went deep in the ninth.
The output was enough for Kershaw to notch the 150th victory of his career.
“Our guys coming out in the first inning like that is a big testament to them,” Kershaw said. “That was awesome today.”