An organization that once set the standard for pitching, the Dodgers went more than two decades without a 20-game winner.
The wait ended Tuesday night.
Beating two-time Cy Young Award recipient Tim Lincecum for the fourth time this season and holding the San Francisco Giants to six hits in 71/3 innings, Clayton Kershaw won his 20th game in a 2-1 victory at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw, 23, became the first Dodger to win 20 games since Ramon Martinez was 20-6 in 1990.
“This is a great organization and we’ve had some pretty awesome pitchers come through here, so I don’t take it lightly,” said Kershaw, who improved to 20-5. “But at the same time, I haven’t really thought about it or let it sink in.”
Matt Kemp, who scored the Dodgers’ first run on a first-inning single by James Loney, was more visibly excited about the milestone victory.
“It was special, man,” Kemp said. “Twenty-three years old, 20 wins. That’s a great accomplishment. We knew what was at stake tonight.”
Kershaw’s pursuit of greatness has often appeared like a solitary effort, as his win total represents more than a quarter of the Dodgers’ 77 victories. But on this night, the National League’s leading Cy Young Award candidate had to rely on his teammates, in particular hard-throwing setup man Kenley Jansen.
Kershaw looked gassed in the eighth inning, as he served up a home run to Chris Stewart that cut the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1 and issued successive walks to Pat Burrell and Andres Torres that inflated his pitch count to 115.
Manager Don Mattingly took the ball out of his ace’s hands and put it into Jansen’s.
With two on and one out, Jansen struck out All-Star Pablo Sandoval, who was relegated to pinch-hitting duties because a shoulder injury prevents him from batting right-handed.
Jansen followed that up with another strikeout, this one of Carlos Beltran, the Giants’ high-priced trade-deadline acquisition. Beltran struck out looking.
“I’m in awe of him, honestly,” Kershaw said. “Tonight, you saw his command. Beltran couldn’t even get the bat off his shoulder because he couldn’t do anything with those pitches. They were right on the black. When it’s 96 [mph] and cutting halfway across the plate, it’s pretty unbelievable.”
Jansen received a hug from Kershaw upon returning to the dugout.
“It’s a team sport and he picked me up tonight,” Kershaw said.
The victory severely compromised the Giants’ postseason ambitions, as it ended the visitors’ eight-game winning streak and kept them 51/2 games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks. The Giants are 41/2 games behind Atlanta in the wild-card race.
“It’s a shame,” Kershaw deadpanned.
Kershaw became the first Dodgers pitcher to go 5-0 against the Giants since Vic Lombardi in 1946.
In doing so, Kershaw remained in line to win the league’s triple crown of pitching. He is the league’s co-leaders in wins with Ian Kennedy of Arizona, and sole leader in earned-run average (2.27) and strikeouts (242). His ERA is best in the majors.
Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee of Philadelphia and Kennedy appear to also be in contention for the Cy Young, but Lincecum said he would endorse Kershaw. “Definitely,” said Lincecum, who won the award in 2008 and 2009.
Kemp offered a similar opinion.
He said he thought about Kershaw’s Cy Young candidacy while standing in center field in the eighth inning.
“If this boy doesn’t win the Cy Young, something’s definitely wrong,” Kemp recalled saying to himself.