Years from now, we will look back on nights like tonight and tell our kids and grandkids that we watched Clayton Kershaw pitch. They won't look at us as quizzically as we do to our elders who got to see Sandy Koufax, simply because there is ample video evidence of Kershaw's greatness. That greatness was on display Tuesday night, as Kershaw outdueled the magnificent Tim Lincecum, again, to pick up his 20th victory as the Dodgers beat the Giants 2-1.
Kershaw is the first Dodgers pitcher to win 20 games in a season since Ramon Martinez went 20-6 in 1990.
The game was close throughout, as all four meetings between Kershaw and Lincecum have been all season. Yet, with Kershaw on the mound, nothing seemed in doubt. Having trouble with the slider? No problem, here is the curve, which worked to perfection on Tuesday, or "Ohhhh the big Uncle Charlie," as VIn Scully called it during the broadcast.
Andres Torres led off the game by reaching base on a throwing error by Aaron Miles, who continued his problems with throws across the diamond. But Torres was promptly thrown out trying to steal second base on a great throw by Rod Barajas. Carlos Beltran singled with two outs in the first, but Kershaw promptly picked him off first base.
In the third inning, Justin Christian led off the inning with a double, but the next three batters couldn't get the ball out of the infield against Kershaw. Christian reached on an infield single in the fifth inning, but Kershaw picked him off too.
Kershaw's nine pickoffs this season are second only to James Shields in MLB this season.
The Dodgers led 2-0 thanks to three straight singles in the first inning, then a solo home run by the white-hot Jerry Sands in the second inning off Lincecum. But that was all Lincecum would allow.
Okay, about that never in doubt part, I may have lied a little bit. In the eighth inning, things started to get dicey. With one out, Chris Stewart took Kershaw over the wall in left to cut the Dodgers' lead in half, at 2-1. Then, walks to Pat Burrell and Torres ended Kershaw's night, and suddenly the game was in doubt, at least a little bit.
Due up next for the Giants were their two best hitters, Pablo Sandoval and Beltran, but the Dodgers had a weapon of their own. Kenley Jansen entered, and cut through the heart of the order like a hot knife through butter. Jansen threw seven pitches combined to Sandoval and Beltran, and six were strikes as Jansen struck out both, to the delight of the playoff-atmospheric crowd at Dodger Stadium.
Jansen has struck out 21 of the last 31 batters he has faced.
Javy Guerra was brought in to preserve the 2-1 lead in the ninth, and things didn't get off to a good start, as Guerra threw wild on Mark DeRosa's tapper back to the mound, pulling James Loney off the bag for a leadoff baserunner. However, Brett Pill popped out, and the crowd roared. One out. Aubrey Huff then grounded to Loney, who began a 3-6-3 double play, and the crowd erupted.
Elation. Clayton Kershaw is 20-5.
Kershaw is tied with Ian Kennedy for the National League lead in wins, at 20.
Kershaw leads the National League with 242 strikeouts, two behind Justin Verlander for the MLB lead
Kershaw leads the majors with a 2.27 ERA.
Kershaw is 5-0 with a 1.07 ERA in six starts against the Giants this season, with eight walks and 49 strikeouts.
I never saw Koufax myself, but my reference point for great Dodger pitching is Orel Hershiser at the end of 1988. Every time Hershiser took the mound, I knew the Dodgers would win. That's how much confidence he inspired. That's the way it is for Kershaw now. I have never felt more confident in the Dodgers than I do with Kershaw on the mound.
He's simply the best. Just ask Tim Lincecum.
WP - Clayton Kershaw (20-5): 7 1/3 IP, 6 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts
LP - Tim Lincecum (13-13): 7 IP, 8 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts
Sv - Javy Guerra (19): 1 IP