Clayton Kershaw and batterymate A.J. Ellis were in agreement for nine innings, especially on one specific point: Losing the game would be much worse than seeing the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace lose his scoreless innings streak.
Chase Headley snapped Kershaw’s streak at 41 innings with a tying homer in the sixth, but the two-time Cy Young Award winner finished with a three-hitter and 11 strikeouts in a 2-1 victory Thursday night over the San Diego Padres.
Kershaw (11-2) won his eighth straight start and came within 18 innings of the major league record set by Dodgers right-hander Orel Hershiser, who threw 59 consecutive shutout innings in 1988.
"I was barely thinking about the streak at all, and I know he wasn’t," Ellis said. "I mean, we weren’t close to anything that was worth starting to get excited about. We were more disappointed that the game was tied. So we had to bear down, keep the game where it was and hope we could scratch out another run."
Headley’s seventh homer halted the longest scoreless streak in the majors since Brandon Webb went 42 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.
Kershaw’s run tied Luis Tiant for the fifth-longest in the expansion era (since 1961).
"It was over the fence, so it was a mistake — and it tied the game," Kershaw said. "When it’s a game like that, one mistake can kill you. Fortunately for me, that one mistake didn’t."
The 26-year-old lefty became the third pitcher in the last 100 years to win eight straight starts in one season while striking out at least seven batters in each one. The others were Sandy Koufax (1966) and Juan Marichal (1967).
"It doesn’t get more competitive than him," Ellis said. "He’s every adjective you could think of. He’s unique, special, just amazing out there. There’s just a relentless will to win. He imposes his will on the opposing team."
Kershaw faced the Padres for the first time this season. Last year, he was 1-3 with a 3.33 ERA in four starts against them.
"He was tough all night," Headley said. "He threw me a slider that didn’t have a whole lot on it. It stayed out over the plate and I was able to put a good swing on it. But he was tremendous again. He showed why he’s one of the best pitchers in the game. It seems like he’s throwing his breaking pitches more. Last year was more fastball and slider."
Kershaw missed five weeks because of a strained muscle in his upper back following his opening-day victory against the Diamondbacks in Australia. But he has a 1.98 ERA in 14 starts, giving him his most wins and lowest ERA before the All-Star break in his seven-year career.
"I think there’s some level of consistency with my pitches," he said. "I’m just repeating my delivery and I know where the ball’s going."
Headed to his fourth All-Star game in a row, Kershaw seems a strong choice to start the Midsummer Classic on regular rest Tuesday night in Minnesota.
Kershaw earned his 14th complete game in 196 career starts, helping the defending NL West champions increase their division lead to one game over San Francisco in the opener of a four-game series that will take them into the break.
Vying for his fourth consecutive major league ERA title, Kershaw highlighted his astounding streak with a no-hitter June 18 against Colorado. He limited the Rockies to two hits over eight innings in the rematch last Friday at Coors Field.
If Kershaw had enough innings to qualify for the ERA race, he’d be second in the majors behind Adam Wainwright’s 1.79 mark for St. Louis.
During his streak, Kershaw allowed 17 hits, struck out 52 batters, walked six and stranded 23 runners — four at third base. He also retired the leadoff hitter in 36 of those innings.
The previous run against Kershaw came on an RBI double by Arizona’s Aaron Hill in the third inning of Kershaw’s 4-3 win June 13 at Dodger Stadium. His next outing was the no-hitter.
Odrisamer Despaigne (2-1) allowed two runs, seven hits and no walks over seven innings for the Padres. He struck out seven in his fourth big league start.
The 27-year-old right-hander got his first chance to face Cuban countryman Yasiel Puig in the majors and held him to one hit in four at-bats — a line-drive double that caromed off Despaigne’s left leg and into left field in the fourth.
Scott Van Slyke hit a two-out single that drove in Puig from third. Adrian Gonzalez knocked in the go-ahead run with sacrifice fly in the sixth after Headley hit his seventh homer.
The Padres, who have lost five of six following a season-best, five-game winning streak, got two runners as far as second base.
NOTES:Hershiser pitched scoreless ball over the final six regular-season starts of his only Cy Young season. He broke the previous big league mark of 58 consecutive scoreless innings, set in 1968 by another former Dodger — Hall of Famer Don Drysdale. … The only pitchers since 1961 with longer scoreless streaks than Kershaw were Bob Gibson (47) and Webb. Drysdale, Gibson and Tiant all had their streaks in 1968, the so-called "Year of the Pitcher." Major League Baseball lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10 the following season. … Kershaw waved a TV cameraman from the Dodgers’ flagship network, Time Warner Cable, away from the mound and off the diamond so he wouldn’t encroach on his first-inning warmups. Time Warner’s contract with the club is estimated to be worth $7 billion over the next two decades. … Hershiser was 30 when he had his streak, and Drysdale was 32. … Kershaw is 9-1 with a 0.97 ERA in 10 starts since May 17, when he gave up seven runs over 1 2-3 innings in an 18-7 loss at Arizona.