Clayton Kershaw's near-perfect night propels Dodgers to dominant win over Angels
The Angels and Dodgers renewed their Southern California rivalry in the opener of a two-game Freeway Series in Anaheim on Friday night.
Two ships passing in the night, they were not.
The Dodgers are a frigate steaming toward their ninth National League West title in 10 years, with an arsenal of bats and arms that appears deep and powerful enough to make another World Series run.
The Angels are like a leaky life raft that has been adrift for weeks, their playoff hopes torpedoed mostly by a group of hitters who lead the major leagues in strikeouts — by a lot — and too often look, as Tommy Lasorda once said of Kurt Bevacqua with an added expletive, like they couldn’t hit water if they “fell out of a boat.”
Their offense further weakened by the loss of injured center fielder Mike Trout to upper-back spasms, all the Angels had to contend with on Friday night was Clayton Kershaw, a three-time National League Cy Young winner who is arguably the greatest pitcher in Dodgers franchise history.
They didn’t have a chance. Kershaw not only rolled through the anemic Angels, but he also came within six outs of a perfect game, settling for eight shutout innings in which he gave up one hit and struck out six in a 9-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 44,648 in Angel Stadium.
Kershaw retired the first 21 batters and needed just 71 pitches — 54 of them strikes — to complete seven innings, his efficiency eliminating any chance of manager Dave Roberts pulling the left-hander like he did after Kershaw threw seven perfect innings in his season debut at Minnesota on April 13.
Kershaw ended the seventh by striking out reigning American League most valuable player Shohei Ohtani with a looping, 74-mph curveball and Taylor Ward with an 86-mph slider, the large contingent of Dodgers fans behind the first-base dugout rising to their feet to salute the 34-year-old pitcher.
But Luis Rengifo smacked a 2-and-1 slider into the left-field corner for a leadoff double in the eighth, ending Kershaw’s bid for baseball history — there have been just 23 perfect games in the majors.
“You try not to think about it too much, but yeah, after the sixth inning, you feel the crowd get into it a little bit, and then once the seventh inning ends and you get through the top of their order again, you feel like maybe you’ve got a chance at this,” Kershaw said. “It’s just a bummer. … I really wanted to do it. I think it would have been really fun for everybody involved.”
Kershaw was not overpowering, but he had excellent command of his three-pitch mix — a four-seam fastball that averaged 91.2 mph, an 87.2-mph slider and a 73.4-mph curve — and he threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 25 batters.
He improved to 7-2 with a 2.13 earned-run average in 12 starts, boosted his chances of starting Tuesday night’s All-Star Game in Dodger Stadium, led the Dodgers to their 13th win in 15 games and sent the Angels to their 11th loss in 13 games.
“I know he doesn’t like the word vintage, but it was vintage Clayton,” Roberts said. “It was just fun to watch, fun to be a part of. … He wasn’t fighting anything tonight with his delivery, his entire pitch mix. There wasn’t stress. He was repeating his delivery. He was efficient. We’re making plays.
“So you knew that he was going to give himself a chance; it was just a matter of, can we get a little lucky? But Rengifo put a nice swing on it and broke up the perfect game.”
Kershaw, who is 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 16 career starts against the Angels, got three superb defensive plays to keep his pursuit of perfection intact. Angels leadoff man Michael Stefanic opened the fourth with a chopper that appeared headed for left before Justin Turner intervened. The third baseman made a lunging, back-hand grab and, from one knee, threw a one-hopper to first that Freddie Freeman scooped for the out.
With two outs in fifth, Jared Walsh ripped a 103.2-mph line drive to shallow right field, where perfectly stationed Dodgers second baseman Hanser Alberto made a lunging, back-hand grab. Stefanic led off the seventh with a hard one-hopper up the middle that Trea Turner made a sliding catch of. The Dodgers shortstop got up and fired accurately to first for the out.
“Honestly, I probably should’ve given up four or five hits before they got that hit in the eighth,” Kershaw said. “The defense played unbelievable tonight.”
Kershaw’s lineup gave him plenty of breathing room. The Dodgers scored twice in the first off Angels starter Patrick Sandoval, Freeman hitting an RBI single — his 14th hit in 17 at-bats dating to Sunday — and Justin Turner’s RBI groundout.
Sandoval escaped two-on jams in the second and third, but his defense let him down in a two-run fifth. Third baseman Jonathan Villar’s error put two on, and right fielder Jo Adell got turned around on Alberto’s catchable drive to the wall, the ball nicking off his glove for a two-run triple and a 4-0 Dodgers lead.
The Dodgers blew the game open with a four-run sixth, Freeman hitting a sacrifice fly, Smith roping an RBI double to left — his third of four hits — and Justin Turner hit a two-run single to center to make it 8-0.
“There were a lot of great at-bats,” Roberts said. “One through nine, we were relentless.”
Just like the guy on the mound.
“He’s like a train, man,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said of Kershaw. “He just keeps going after hitters.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.