Eugenio Velez returned to his former place of glory, speeding home with the winning run in the top of the ninth inning on an infield grounder by Jamey Carroll, giving Clayton Kershaw a 2-1 win over the Giants in the opening game of a three-game series in San Francisco. The third battle between Kershaw and Tim Lincecum proved every bit a pitchers' duel, but the Dodgers were able to scratch across single runs in both the eighth and ninth innings to win it.
Kershaw allowed just one unearned run in his eight innings of work, allowing just three hits and a walk, lowering his ERA to 2.3588, the lowest in baseball, narrowly ahead of Johnny Cueto's 2.3632 mark. Kershaw struck out nine to give him a National League-leading 231 on the season, one why of Justin Verlander for the major league lead. Kershaw is the first Dodger to win 18 games in a season since Chan Ho Park in 2000.
The eighth inning was beginning to look like the other seven before it, as both Dee Gordon and James Loney were retired quickly. Matt Kemp then hit a ball 20 feet up the third base line that simply died and refused to go foul, for an infield hit. Kemp stole second base, his 38th swipe of the season, then scored on a ground ball single up the middle by Juan Rivera to tie the game at one.
In the ninth inning, Rod Barajas led off with a single to left, which brought in Velez to pinch run. Justin Sellers sacrificed Velez to second, then a wild pitch put him on third base. Carroll came in to hit for Kershaw, who had thrown 111 pitches in his eight innings of stellar work. In his 464th plate appearances of the season, Carroll picked up his 13th RBI with a grounder to a drawn-in Jeff Keppinger at second base, whose throw home was not in time to beat the speedy Velez.
The Giants led off the game with 31-year old career minor leaguer Justin Christian grounding to shortstop, only Gordon's high throw pulled Loney off the bag for an error. One out and one walk later, Pablo Sandoval delivered an RBI single to left field for the unearned run. Jerry Sands appeared to make the player closer than originally thought with a strong throw home, but third baseman Aaron Miles cut off the throw before it had a (remote) chance to get Christian at the plate, so we'll never know.
Gordon showed both ends of the defensive spectrum in the first inning. After making the error to open the inning, Gordon ended it with a tremendous leaping grab in short left field to keep the game at 1-0.
Before tying the game in the eighth inning, the closest the Dodgers came to a rally was in the top of the fourth inning, when Kemp led off with a single, followed by a perfectly-placed dinker down the left field line by Rivera to put runners at the corners with nobody out. However, Lincecum got Miles to pop out then struck out Jerry Sands and Barajas to end the frame, though not before Barajas missed a three-run home run down the left field line by a few feet.
Lincecum's defense behind him was in fine form tonight, making at least three plays of note. Orlando Cabrera shook off the cement to make a great diving grab of a line drive up the middle by Miles in the second inning. Beltran made a leaping grab over the fence of a foul ball down the right field line by Jerry Sands in the sixth inning. In the seventh inning, Sellers lined a ball to center field that was picked off on a dive by Christian.
Lincecum threw 127 pitches in his eight innings, allowing just one run. In four starts against the Dodgers this season, Lincecum has a 1.65 ERA but no wins to show for it.
Javy Guerra pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 17th save of the season.
WP - Clayton Kershaw (18-5): 8 IP, 3 hits, 1 unearned run, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts
LP - Santiago Casilla (2-2): 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 run
Sv - Javy Guerra (17): 3 up, 3 down