Kershaw dazzles as Dodgers walk off
Lefty strikes out 13; Loney's free pass ends it in ninth
LOS ANGELES -- OK, it's plain wrong to compare Clayton Kershaw (or anyone else) to Sandy Koufax.
So, let's just say Kershaw might be the best hard-throwing, left-handed Dodgers starter since.
On a night dedicated to Jackie Robinson, the 21-year-old southpaw evoked memories of Koufax by pitching a one-hitter through seven overpowering innings and becoming the youngest Los Angeles Dodger to strike out 13, and youngest Dodger since a 19-year-old Koufax fanned 14.
"Pretty good company there," said Kershaw.
Kershaw struck out the side in his last inning and five of the last six batters he faced, but was removed by manager Joe Torre with a one-run lead after making 105 pitches.
After the bullpen turned Kershaw's masterpiece into a blown save, the Dodgers scored twice in the eighth inning to tie it, and James Loney walked with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 5-4 win over the Giants on Wednesday night for their fourth consecutive win.
While the offense could take pride in a comeback that took the bullpen -- specifically Hong-Chih Kuo and Ronald Belisario -- off the hook, Kershaw was the buzz.
He said he was prouder of pitching seven innings than he was the 13 strikeouts, especially after lasting only five innings five days earlier. In the four games since James McDonald's 2 1/3-inning loss Friday night, the Dodgers have had three starts of seven innings and one of 5 1/3 innings.
"Without a doubt, the seven innings is more important than the strikeouts," said Kershaw. "Strikeouts are not that important to me, but seven innings is. That's the benchmark of a starting pitcher, how deep can you go. Five-and-dive is not what you need to do. That taxes the bullpen and taxes the team. The only thing I wanted tonight was to go deeper."
Catcher Russell Martin said he's seen Kershaw with better command of his changeup, which impressed Martin even more.
"What I liked today is he didn't have his best stuff but he kept his composure and when he got excited, he stepped off the mound to gather himself," said Martin. "I saw him grow a little today and it was nice to see. His fastball was overpowering and around the zone and the curveball was nice today. He got a lot of swings and misses. If he's got two of the three [pitches], he's okay."
Of course, the second-guessers want to know why Torre, with an uncertain bullpen, would yank a pitcher who just struck out the side.
"The kid was spectacular, he only deserved to win tonight's game," said Torre, even though Kershaw didn't get the win. "If he goes back out there, he's in a pitch count of 120 to 125 and he hasn't been there."
That's true, although Kershaw hasn't been there because the Dodgers haven't let him. The most innings he pitched in a Minor League game was a quick eight (104 pitches). He had a 100-pitch limit in the Minors and said he probably hasn't had a 120-pitch game since high school.
"For me, pitch count isn't a measure of being tired," he said. "You miss pitches up a lot, that's a sign. Maybe pitch count wears on you late in the season. It's not that big a deal, especially 105, that's not that many pitches. It's not my call, but I would have been fine to pitch the eighth."
But Kershaw wasn't joining the second-guessers.
"If Kuo is coming in with a one-run lead, I'll trust him every time," said Kershaw. "As a setup man, I wouldn't want anybody else. It's just one of those games."
Kuo took over to start the eighth inning, hit Pablo Sandoval with a pitch and allowed a single to Rich Aurilia that put runners on the corners. Rookie Belisario took over and, on an 0-2 pitch, served up a three-run home run to Aaron Rowand.
The Dodgers scored in the first inning, coincidentally on another bases-loaded walk by Loney. The Giants evened the score in the top of the second on Bengie Molina's leadoff homer in the Dodgers bullpen, the only hit off Kershaw.
Casey Blake put the Dodgers back in front with his third home run of the season in the fourth inning. In the eighth, Andre Ethier singled to chase Jeremy Affeldt and went to third when Martin greeted Bob Howry with a double. On Loney's sacrifice fly, Ethier scored and Martin took third. Matt Kemp tied the game with a clutch line single to center.
In the ninth, Orlando Hudson singled and was singled to third by Manny Ramirez, and Ethier was walked intentionally to load the bases. Martin bounced into a forceout at the plate before Brian Wilson walked Loney on a 3-2 pitch.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.