There is a reasonable case to be made that May 23 is the best date of Clayton Kershaw’s career. I think there is one date later in the calendar that is more prolific than this, but it’s hard to argue with four dominant starts in which the Dodgers’ ace allowed a total of two runs.
The first of these games was in 2011 in Houston, back when the Astros were still in the National League. That was a 106-loss Astros team, the first of three consecutive execrable tanking years for Houston. Kershaw, accordingly, only allowed a single run.
But his night was relatively brief, ending after six innings, but more due to circumstance than his performance. From my game recap:
Mattingly faced a tough decision with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. The game was tied at 1-1 and his ace, Kershaw was due up with runners on at first and second base. Kershaw had thrown 84 pitches at this point in the game and had struck out the final two batters he faced in the previous inning. With the Dodgers’ normal, feeble bench, there is a strong argument to be made to keep Kershaw in the game, even though scoring opportunities are so few and far between for this offense. Luckily, the Dodgers happened to have Andre Ethier at the ready, and Kershaw was pulled.
Ethier singled home two runs, giving Kershaw and the Dodgers the lead, but the Astros sent seven batters to the plate in the ninth for a walk-off win, prompting the headline for my recap: “Kenley Jansen, Left To Die On Vine, Dies On Vine.”
Up next on May 23 for Kershaw was 2014, another outing shortened by circumstance rather than his performance. This one was the start of a memorable weekend series in Philadelphia that would end with a no-hitter on Sunday by Josh Beckett.
Kershaw on this Friday allowed only a walk through the first three innings but then had to wait. From my game recap (featuring a tidbit from old friend Jon Weisman):
In an incredible piece of foreshadowing by Jon Weisman at Dodgers Insider earlier on Friday, he examined all 192 previous starts by Kershaw, including the postseason, and found that 22 previous times Kershaw made it through at least three innings without allowing a hit.
But then the rains came, halting play for 43 minutes.
After the delay, Kershaw tacked on three more scoreless frames, stranding runners in scoring position in two different innings. He left leading the Phillies 2-0, a score that held up though four different relievers.
In 2016, Kershaw’s May 23 start came at home against the Reds, and he carved them up, allowing only two hits and a walk. Kershaw struck out seven in his shutout, making the Dodgers’ lone run stand up.
Kershaw’s ERA on the season after this start was 1.48, and thus far in May he allowed three runs in 42 innings, with 55 strikeouts. Kershaw’s dominance was evident in my game recap:
Kershaw pitched his third shutout of the month, the first Dodgers pitcher to do so since Tim Belcher in 1989.
Kershaw is the first Dodgers pitcher to last a seven or more innings in each of his first 10 starts of the year since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
“Not only is he the pitcher of a lifetime or a generation, but he’s a baseball player of a generation,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Just his will to be great, it seems like every single time he takes the mound, he goes little league on us and does something to carry us on his shoulders and put us on his back.”
One year later, Kershaw was back at home on May 23, this time against the Cardinals. He went another nine innings in this one, allowing just a run, but got a no-decision in a game the Dodgers won in 13 innings, hanging the loss on old friend Jonathan Broxton.
Kershaw struck out 10 and, in his 273rd start, reached a milestone of sorts. From my game recap:
By allowing just the three baserunners on Tuesday, Kershaw also moved into very rare territory, lowering his career WHIP below one. He has 1,346 hits allowed and 485 walks in 1,831⅔ innings, good for a WHIP of 0.99964.
“I’m not worried about the career stuff,” Kershaw said. “Eventually, you’ll get to look back on it all. Hopefully, I’m right in the middle of all that stuff.”
The only other two pitchers in major league history with a sub-1.000 WHIP are Addie Joss (0.9678) and Ed Walsh (0.99955), and they pitched in the dead ball era.
So we have four Kershaw starts on May 23 — two that lasted nine innings, and two more outings that were shortened by factors out of his control. Kershaw in these four starts had a minuscule 0.60 ERA with 33 strikeouts and six walks in 30 innings. That’s dominance.
2011: 6 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts
2014 (W, 3-1): 6 IP, 2 hits, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts
2016 (W, 7-1): 9 IP, 2 hits, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts
2017: 9 IP, 3 hits, 1 run, 10 strikeouts
Up next: No May 24 starts for Kershaw, so we’ll see you again on Monday