Clayton Kershaw has been the Los Angeles Dodgers most dominant pitcher over the last month.
He won his fifth straight decision, pitching seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball to help the Dodgers beat the Astros 5-2 on Saturday night.
Kershaw (8-5) struck out five and lowered his ERA to 2.95. The 21-year-old left-hander is 5-0 with a minuscule 0.63 ERA over his last seven starts, and has not allowed a run in five of those outings. This was only the second time he lasted seven innings during that stretch.
“To pitch for a first place team, you’ve got to have confidence,” Kershaw said. “I mean, you don’t want to be cocky or arrogant about it, but at the same time, you want to carry yourself in a way that you know you can get the job done. Obviously it doesn’t hurt when you’re getting some runs to work with and some great defensive help.”
Jonathan Broxton struck out Ivan Rodriguez with the bases loaded for the final out for his 21st save in 23 chances to preserve the victory for Kershaw.
“Clayton’s in a good place right now,” said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who celebrated his 69th birthday. “We felt that with a five-run lead, our bullpen could do it. And it did. It was a little hairy for a while, but we did it. That’s what the eighth and ninth innings are supposed to be. There are very few of those games a friend of mind likes to call ‘cigar games,’ where you can just do the old Red Auerbach thing and wait for the clock to run out. That doesn’t happen in this sport.”
The Astros scored both of their runs in the eighth against rookie James McDonald. But Jeff Keppinger was called out at first by umpire Casey Mower on a very close play for the third out with a man at third. Manager Cecil Cooper came out to argue and was ejected for the fourth time this season. Television replays showed that Keppinger beat the throw.
Broxton, who has been hampered by a sore big right toe and has had two cortisone shots for it, pitched for the first time in eight days. The first-time All-Star gave up a leadoff walk and an infield hit to Carlos Lee, then fanned Hunter Pence and Chris Coste before loading the bases with a walk to pinch-hitter and Astros RBI leader Lance Berkman – who did not start for the second straight night because of a left calf strain.
“I felt good out there, but I was a little rusty,” Broxton said. “I was yanking some pitches and I just dug myself a hole, but I battled through it.”
The Dodgers, who dropped the first two games of this series 3-0 and 8-1, lead the majors with a 57-34 record and remain the only team that hasn’t lost three a row. The last time that happened was Aug. 29, when they dropped their eighth straight before winning the next eight.
Mike Hampton (5-7) gave up five runs — four earned — and seven hits over 5 2-3 innings and committed an embarrassing error that led to one of the runs.
The Dodgers increased the margin to 5-0 with three runs in the sixth. Orlando Hudson scored on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice grounder by Matt Kemp, which followed an intentional walk to Casey Blake. Mark Loretta, who came in 16-for-44 lifetime against Hampton, hit an RBI single to left that drove in Blake on a close play.
When Hampton got the ball back from catcher Humberto Quintero, the frustrated 15-year veteran tried to slam it into his glove and missed – forcing Hampton to retrieve it near the first base dugout as Kemp scored the fifth run. At that point, Cooper replaced Hampton.
“I saw the umpire’s hands up, but I guess he was giving the safe call,” Hampton said. “It was a stupid play on my part, and it was just out of frustration. It cost me a run. We didn’t score the runs we needed to make a difference, but it’s still something that shouldn’t happen.”
Torre announced before the game that right-hander Jason Schmidt, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 16, 2007, will be activated from the 60-day DL on Monday night to start against Cincinnati.
Torre’s record as a manager on his birthday is 15-9, including victories in each of the last five years. He is a perfect 9-0 at home. … Houston RHP Alberto Arias retired all three batters he faced in the eighth, extending his scoreless streak to 21 1-3 innings. … Hampton has not allowed a home run in his last 40 1-3 innings, the first time he has gone six consecutive starts without giving up the long ball since the 2000 season with the New York Mets.