Clayton Kershaw and Johnny Cueto may have stumbled out of the starting gate, but each lived up to their billing in one of the better pitching duels of the season. But Friday night's game was decided by the bullpens, with Justin Turner hitting a home run to left field against Santiago Casilla in the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 3-2 win over the Giants in the opener of a three-game series at AT&T Park
The home run made a winner out of Kershaw, and brought the Dodgers to within three games in the National League West.
It was just Turner's fifth home run of the season, but also his second in the last three games. And it was the Dodgers' first hit since the first inning.
Just like the first time the Dodgers faced Cueto this season, they scored immediately. Though it wasn't five runs this time, like on April 10, the Dodgers were able to scratch together two runs in fortuitous fashion.
Chase Utley was hit by a pitch — don't worry, Adam Hamari wasn't umpiring this game, so nobody was ejected — then Corey Seager hit a cue ball with crazy spin down the third base line for a single. Cueto further obliged with a wild pitch, then on one of his patented double-shimmy hesitation deliveries to the plate he was called for a balk, giving LA their first run.
Adrian Gonzalez singled home the second run, the first of two straight singles, giving the Dodgers a chance for an even bigger opening frame with just one out.
But Cueto wouldn't allow another hit the rest of the way. He retired 22 of his final 23 batters faced, with only Utley reaching base again with another hit by pitch that barely grazed his pant leg, a call that had to be determined by replay.
Cueto was wonderful in his eight innings, allowing two runs on three hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts.
Kershaw had his own hiccup in the first inning, in the form of a single pitch to Matt Duffy that ended up well into the seats in left field to bring San Francisco within one.
But after that home run, Kershaw retired 11 in a row, cruising into the fifth. Two infield singles — one a grounder between Kershaw's legs and slowed down after hitting his pant leg, the other a high bouncer swallowed by Utley — and a throwing error gave the Giants a rally, but Kershaw was able to escape with a strikeout and a ground out.
Kershaw struck out 13 and walked none in his eight innings, and set a new season high with 30 swinging strikes. His previous high was 26 on May 1 against San Diego. It was the third time he reached 30 swinging strikes in a game in his career, with both other games in 2015. His high was 32 swinging strikes, set last Sept. 2 when he struck out 15 Giants at home.
But it was a swing that didn't miss that brought home the equalizer, when Buster Posey tattooed a ball to the wall in left center field for a double to score Joe Panik in the sixth inning, tying the score at 2-2.
Kershaw had his sixth game of the season with double-digit strikeouts and no walks, and pushed his strikeout-to-walk ratio a little higher into the stratosphere. With 122 strikeouts and just six walks, Kershaw's K/BB ratio now stands at an absurd 20.33.
Armed with a lead after Turner's home run, Kenley Jansen started the ninth inning. He allowed a two-out double to Brandon Belt and then a walk to pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco, putting the tying and potential winning runs on base, but Jansen struck out Brandon Crawford to end the game an earn his 17th save of the season.
The two teams are at it again on Saturday, with Scott Kazmir starting in phase two of the Dodgers' all-lefty weekend. The Giants will counter with workhorse Jeff Samardzija in the middle game of the series, a 4:15 p.m. PT start.
Joe Davis will call the game again, but this time with a different pitcher as his analyst and on a different network. Saturday is a Fox broadcast, with Davis on play-by-play alongside C.J. Nitkowski instead of his SportsNet LA partner Orel Hershiser.
Home runs: Justin Turner (5); Matt Duffy (3)
WP - Clayton Kershaw (9-1): 8 IP, 5 hits, 2 runs, 13 strikeouts
LP - Santiago Casilla (1-2): 1 IP, 2 hits, 1 run, 1 strikeout
Sv - Kenley Jansen (17): 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 walk, 1 strikeout