LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw was in peak form on Wednesday night, and the Dodgers needed every bit of it to eek out a third consecutive one-run win over the Giants to complete a sweep at Dodger Stadium.
"They're a great team," Kershaw said of his opponents. "I expect those last four games in San Francisco to matter."
Kershaw tied a career high in throwing 132 pitches, the last one a slider in the dirt swung on and missed by Marlon Byrd, leaving the tying and go-ahead runs on base to preserve the Dodgers victory. Kershaw also threw 132 pitches on May 14, 2013 against the Nationals.
The 15 strikeouts tied a career high for Kershaw, also accomplished during his no-hitter on June 18, 2014 against the Rockies.
"He had 15 tonight?" manager Don Mattingly asked after the game. "Wow."
During the game, Mattingly was well aware of Kershaw's pitch count, which stood at 107 through eight innings. Kershaw batted in the bottom of the inning, with nobody warming up in the bullpen. Then Kershaw got the first two outs of the ninth inning, ready to slam the door shut.
Then, San Francisco found life, in the form of a single to left field by Matt Duffy, followed by a single to center by Buster Posey. Now, with Kershaw at 127 pitches, Don Mattingly came to the mound.
With closer Kenley Jansen unavailable, Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan were warming in the bullpen. But Mattingly didn't bring the hook.
"It was probably 50-50, but I didn't really know," Kershaw said.
"I just wanted to make sure he was okay," Mattingly said. "I knew I was going to leave him in if he was okay."
Five pitches later, Byrd struck out and the Dodgers had their sweep. And a 6½-game lead in the National League West.
"It was tough with him," Mattingly said. "His stuff was really good. It was still crisp, we thought, and he felt good. With Kenley and a few guys down in the bullpen, this was a game you're going to let him go."
Kershaw's 130th pitch was a 95-mph fastball to Byrd, so the stuff was still there. Kershaw said his fastball and his slider were working the best for him on the night.
"He was pretty much smooth sailing all night. He had a couple of tough innings all night, but not a lot of battles," Mattingly said. "It's what Rick [Honeycutt, pitching coach] talks about, there's not a lot of stress innings in there, it seems to be easier. He had a lot of clean innings, and was throwing 94-95 mph in the ninth, just as hard as he was earlier in the game.
"Over the course of the year, you might ask why I take him out? Really it's for games like this. It's why you save your bullets, over the course of the long haul keep him in check, keep him strong."
"He puts a good game plan together as far as attacking hitters, and he's able execute," said Chase Utley, who provided the winning margin with his sixth-inning home run. "With his stuff, when he's able to execute he's extremely tough."
That stuff produced some crazy numbers on Wednesday. For instance, Kershaw threw 95 strikes on Wednesday. Kershaw has the only two games with 90 or more strikes this season, having also thrown 92 on July 8.
Clayton Kershaw got 35 swings-and-misses that game, most in MLB this year. No. 2: Kershaw (7/18) and Carlos Carrasco (7/1) had 30.— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) September 3, 2015
Kershaw induced 35 swinging strikes tonight, which SHATTERS the previous pitch fx era (2008-present) record of 30, which Kershaw co-held.— Daniel Brim (@DanielBrim) September 3, 2015
A window into Kershaw's domination: he threw 1st-pitch strikes to 28 of 31 batters. Generated 16 whiffs on 27 swings against his slider.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) September 3, 2015
The result was the 15 strikeouts, pushing him to 251 strikeouts on the season. With at least five starts, and maybe a sixth shortened tune-up start to end the regular season, Kershaw has a chance becoming the first pitcher with 300 strikeouts since Randy Johnson (334) and Curt Schilling (316) both did it in 2002.
"Outs are outs," Kershaw said. "I'll take them however I can get them."
Kershaw over his last 11 starts has allowed nine runs and nine walks while striking out 110, with a 0.93 ERA. On the season, Kershaw's ERA is down to 2.18, now fourth in the majors.
Kershaw will also likely have extra time to rest his left arm after his 132-pitch effort. Mike Bolsinger will start on Friday for the Dodgers in San Diego, which will essentially push the starting rotation back one day. Though Mattingly wouldn't commit to any scheduled pitchers beyond Friday, saying he wanted to make sure to tell the pitchers in question first.
Kershaw was asked how his arm felt after throwing 132 pitches.
"I don't feel like pitching right now," Kershaw quipped. "But I'll be fine by next time out, whenever it is."
The Dodgers start a 10-game road trip with a four-game series in San Diego against the Padres, with Mat Latos starting the series opener on Thursday night at Petco Park. San Diego will counter with Colin Rea, one of four right-handed pitchers slated to face the Dodgers this weekend.