Clayton Kershaw flung his glove on the bench and booted a plastic cooler with the force of an NFL kicker, the frustration of the Dodgers left-hander clearly evident upon his early return to the dugout Friday night.
The three-time National League Cy Young Award winner who prides himself on going deep into games did not record an out in the fifth inning of an eventual 5-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants before 53,317 in Dodger Stadium.
“You just never want to come out of a game, especially that early,” Kershaw said after giving up three runs and seven hits in four innings, striking out six and walking three, to fall to 13-5. “It was just a frustrating game, all the way around.”
A.J. Pollock did his part to keep the Dodgers in it, hitting three homers in a game for the second time in his career, including a solo shot off Giants closer Will Smith to pull the Dodgers to within a run with two outs in the ninth.
Pinch-hitter Russell Mar-tin walked, but Dodgers catcher Will Smith, in a rare battle of players with the same name, struck out to end the game.
Arizona’s win over Cincinnati kept the Dodgers’ magic number at four, meaning the earliest the Dodgers can clinch their seventh straight NL West title is Sunday.
It took 99 pitches for Kershaw to complete four-plus innings, 12 coming on a walk to Kevin Pillar that put two on with no outs in the fifth, an exhausting duel that left manager Dave Roberts little choice but to pull his starter.
Both of Kershaw’s runners scored on pinch-hitter Mike Yastrzemski’s two-run double to right-center field off reliever Dylan Floro. Mauricio Dubon capped a four-run fifth with a two-run single off Floro to give San Francisco a 5-1 lead.
Kershaw, who opened the season with 23 consecutive starts in which he threw six innings or more, has now thrown five and four innings, respectively, in his last two starts.
He looked a little off-kilter Friday night, working at a deliberate pace, stepping off the rubber several times and bouncing a number of breaking balls in front of the plate. The Giants fouled off 32 of his pitches.
“You could see his frustration early,” Roberts said. “He couldn’t get into a rhythm. It was a grind for him. It seemed like they were spoiling pitches, taking good at-bats, and it drove up his pitch count.”
Kershaw escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first, a second-and-third, no-out jam in the second and a two-on, two-out jam in the third, and Pollock staked him to a 1-0 lead with a solo homer to left-center in the second.
But Dubon’s homer off the left-field foul pole in the fourth tied the score, and the Giants opened a four-run lead in the fifth. Pollock homered to center to lead off the fifth, and Joc Pederson’s leadoff double and Cody Bellinger’s two-out RBI single pulled the Dodgers to within 5-3 in the seventh.
“I’m still kind of learning A.J., and I don’t think he’s a streaky guy because of the way he prepares every day,” Roberts said. “But hopefully he’s approaching a hot streak, because tonight was a special night for him.”
The Dodgers’ rotation entered the game with a major league-best 3.14 ERA, .658 opponents’ on-base-plus-slugging percentage and 1.07 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched).
But the starters have shown some wear and tear over the last two weeks, posting a 5.67 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in their last 14 games, in which they’ve gone 7-7.
Hyun-Jin Ryu, a Cy Young favorite for much of the season, has a 9.95 ERA in his last four starts and will be skipped in the rotation next week.
Kershaw has given up earned runs in nine innings of his last two starts.
Walker Buehler was tagged for six earned runs in five innings of his last start.
“A lot of our momentum all year long has been starting pitching,” Roberts said. “When you have consistent starting pitching, guys who go deep in games, that’s contagious, and it gives you a chance to win on a nightly basis.
“If you look back at the last two weeks, the common factor is our starters haven’t been consistent. You expect them to turn it around.”
The Dodgers honored Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who is retiring after this season, before his final series in Chavez Ravine, with Vin Scully narrating a video tribute to Bochy and Roberts presenting him with a framed Sandy Koufax jersey signed by the Hall of Fame pitcher.
“I loved playing for him,” said Roberts, who played his final two seasons for Bochy in San Francisco in 2007 and 2008. “I’m excited for him to see his next chapter.”