LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers shut out the Colorado Rockies 8-0 on Friday night at Dodger Stadium with the type of performance that had been heavily advertised if not consistently executed during the club’s lukewarm second half.
Clayton Kershaw (13-9) made his first home start since his hip inflammation injury. He sat out 12 days before pitching in a 5-3 win in Cincinnati on Sunday, so when he returned to LA, he had his usual four days between starts. Back on his regular routine, Kershaw turned in one of his finest performances of the season on Friday: an eight-inning gem in which he allowed five hits, walked two, and struck out 10 batters for the 18th time in his career. Of his 113 pitches, 80 were thrown for strikes.
“I got some good work in in between starts,” Kershaw said. “Threw a good bullpen, and then got back up there the next day and threw some fastballs. Just being on a regular routine helps, and I felt like I was able to control the ball a lot better tonight than in Cincinnati. It definitely helps.”
Though the gutsiness of both starts was similar, the rest of the comparison was like night and day. Eight of his first 15 outs were recorded by strikeout on Friday, while only one Rockies hit went for extra bases – a sharply hit liner by surging rookie Willin Rosario down the left field line.
“It’s always the same, how good this guy is. It’s why everybody worries about him. It’s why there’s such a fuss every time something goes on – because you know how good he is,” manager Don Mattingly said of his ace lefty. “So I think that’s why it kind of tells you what kind of pitcher this guy is – is that when anything’s going on, you’re like ‘hey, we’ve got to make sure we take care of this guy.’ He’s just special.”
Regardless of where the Dodgers are come game 162 – they still trail the St. Louis Cardinals by three games for the second wild card with five games to play – Kershaw still expects to take the ball for the regular season finale against San Francisco on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
“Yeah, that’s my plan. Hopefully it matters,” he said after winning his 13th game of the season and his first win since since Aug. 25.
For Mattingly, there are elevated priorities than what exists five days in the future.
“At this point, it’s not even a thought. Honestly, we need to win tomorrow. We’ve got to keep pressure on St. Louis. We’ve got to force them to win every day. That’s what we have to do.”
If only the remaining games could be as uncomplicated as Friday’s rout.
An inconsistent LA offense banged out 12 hits – two of which were by Andre Ethier against left-handed starter Jeff Francis (5-7), and five of which went for extra bases – while A.J. Ellis and Bobby Abreu provided two-out RBIs. Abreu’s eighth-inning home run was the first in his career as a pinch hitter and the 21st home run to ever land in the Loge section at Dodger Stadium.
Shane Victorino also homered as part of a two-hit, three-RBI night, and when it was all over, the team had done something it had failed to in the last four homestands: win the opening game.
The Dodgers haven’t had a winning homestand since May 18-20 and have been swept at home (twice) more often than they’ve won post-All-Star Break series at home (once).
They’ve now won three in a row and four out of five against lower-tier National League clubs that they had previously struggled to beat consistently in the second half. For the third consecutive game, the Dodgers scored eight runs.
“This is what we’re capable of,” Mattingly said.
It will still be an incredibly tall order for the Dodgers to surge back within striking distance of the Cardinals, who have two games remaining in their series at home against Washington before Cincinnati visits Busch Stadium for three games to close out the regular season. St. Louis’ magic number is three.
“If you’re going to win a pennant or a championship, usually you’re going into the last week, and you’re playing meaningful games. Very seldom do you just run away,” Mattingly said. “Honestly, it’s hard to clinch. It’s hard to win games in the end for teams. I know the numbers and all the statistics . . . but I do know the human nature side of it is that it’s hard to win games down the stretch, and it’s hard to close out when every game you have to win – especially if the team behind you forces you to win your way in. And that’s really what we have to do.”
It was a sentiment shared by his ace.
“I’m just realistic,” Kershaw said. “We’re three games back with five to go. We pretty much need to win out. That’s basically how it goes. We’re playing great baseball right now, and it’s cliché – everybody says it – but we’ve just got to come tomorrow and win. That’s what we’ve got to do. We can’t really worry about St. Louis.
“Obviously we’re watching. If somebody says that we’re not, they’re lying. We want to know what they’re doing and go take care of business when it’s our turn.”