The Dodgers took on the Tampa Bay Rays on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball at Dodger Stadium and if this was the first look that a person on the east coast ever had at Clayton Kershaw pitching in real time, they saw exactly why Kershaw won the 2011 Cy Young Award, finished runner up last year, and is well on his way to his third consecutive season of leading Major League Baseball in Earned Run Average.
Kershaw was a stone-cold pitching assasin on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium. You knew it was going to be that kind of night for him when he struck out the first two Rays he faced and made it look like he was a man amongst Little Leaguers. Over the course of his eight innings of work, television viewers watched Kershaw spin mastery. They watched him recover from poor defensive plays to work out of innings. They saw him take a bases loaded, no out situation in the eighth with a large lead and approach it like a guy who needed to get out of a jam in a tight game. Kershaw gave up an unearned run and otherwise stomped out the rally before the Rays could attempt to return the favor on the Dodgers, who had overcome a six run deficit on Friday night.
The scoring started in the bottom of the second inning. Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis started the inning off with back-to-back singles. Juan Uribe bunted a ball down the first base line that he nearly beat, but was out on the play at first, sacrificing Ethier and Ellis to third. After Dee Gordon struck out, Clayton Kershaw showed that he’s not only dominant on the mound, he’s not a slouch with the bat, either, lining a two out single to right field to score the two runners and stake the Dodgers out to an early 2-0 lead. After a Carl Crawford single, Mark Ellis launched a double sharply down the left field line, scoring Kershaw to make the score 3-0 Dodgers.
Yasiel Puig used his legs to generate a run in the bottom of the third. After leading off with a double, a flyout by Ethier and a sacrifice fly by A.J. Ellis to center moved Puig along the basepaths and made the score 4-0.
The Dodgers managed to chase Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson after only 3 innings of work. Hellickson gave up 4 runs (all earned) on 7 hits while striking out two before hitting the showers.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Dodgers struck again. Dee Gordon led off with a bunt single. Kershaw failed to advance Gordon with a sacrifice bunt as Gordon was forced at second, but Kershaw made it to first safely, got to second safely on Carl Crawford’s walk, then after a Mark Ellis strikeout, Adrian Gonzalez’s two out double plated both Kershaw and Crawford, giving the Dodgers a 6-0 lead.
The Rays finally got a run across on Kershaw in the top of the fifth. Yunil Escobar singled, got to second on a groundout to short, then scored on a triple by Sam Fuld that Yasiel Puig missed catching by a matter of issues, cutting the Dodger lead to 6-1.
The Dodgers would get that run plus one more back in the bottom of the sixth. Mark Ellis followed up an infield single by Carl Crawford by launching a ball into the left field seats, giving the Dodgers an 8-1 lead.
Clayton Kershaw pitched brilliantly through seven, but then got in a little trouble in the eighth inning. A walk, a single, and a bad fielding error by Dee Gordon loaded the bases with nobody out and Kershaw nearing the 100 pitch mark. The crafty lefty showed why he is arguably the best pitcher in the game today, though. Kershaw proceeded to strike out Sean Rodriguez, allowed a sacrifice fly to Will Myers that made the score 8-2, and then got Evan Longoria to hit a ball to third base that Juan Uribe took to the bag himself for a force play, ending the threat.
Kershaw went 8 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits, striking out eight and walking two. Kershaw’s ERA fell to a league-leading 1.88 for his efforts.
Somewhat concerning moment, as Adrian Gonzalez reported feeling dizzy in the eighth inning. The Dodgers removed him from the game in favor of pinch hitter Jerry Hairston, Jr. in the bottom of the eighth. Hairston stayed in the game at first base for the ninth inning. Gonzalez was examined by doctors and is reported to be “okay.” No word on if he will miss any time.
Carlos Marmol pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and even ended the game on a strikeout as the Dodgers swept the Tampa Bay Rays.
Kershaw picked up the win, improving to 11-7. Jeremy Hellickson took the loss, he falls to 10-6 on the season.
The Dodgers open up a three game set against the New York Mets tonight at Dodger Stadium, a 7:10 p.m. scheduled start. Ricky Nolasco (3-1 with a 3.00 ERA since joining the Dodgers, 8-9 with a 3.65 ERA overall) takes on Jennry Mejia (1-1, 1.96 ERA) in the first game of the series.