In Clayton Kershaw, are we watching the greatest pitcher since Sandy Koufax? Or, dare we say it, are we witnessing the greatest pitcher the game has ever known?
If Kershaw Saturday night didn’t duplicate the brilliance of his Opening Day dominance of the world champion San Francisco Giants, it may have only been that he didn’t have to ignite a listless offense with another late inning home run.
An insurance run to go with his early lead might have been nice, if manager Don Mattingly ever discovers he’s in the National League and a no-out sacrifice with runners on first and second might prove more helpful than allowing A.J. Ellis to ground out into a potential rally-killing double play.
Kershaw and the Dodgers won, 1-0, holding on to a third-inning lead built on Mark Ellis' first RBI of the year that scored Carl Crawford from second base.
Crawford had gotten on board on an infield hit and stole second base.
But as Koufax showed almost half a century ago – and Kershaw reminded us on Opening Day – winning Dodger baseball often is a one-man team sport.
And they may one day remark about Kershaw when he pitches, as they did with Koufax in the 1960s and someone would say:
“Koufax threw a two-hitter today.”
To which someone would answer, “But did the Dodgers win?”
For Kershaw Saturday night battled the Pirates’ A. J. Burnett in a pitching duel as if these were the world champions and as if Burnett were some incredible Cy Young candidate wonder and not a Yankee castoff who could only be the ace of a staff on the Pirates, seemingly baseball’s perennial team of misfit players.
Burnett, in other words, pitched brilliantly in his own right against the Dodgers whose own identity continued to hang like some phantom offense, transparently indecisive, in the cool Chavez Ravine night which surprisingly did not produce a sellout.
Murderers row the Dodgers aren’t, and a moniker from some white collar criminal gang might be more fitting. What can you say when Matt Kemp strikes out three times, kills an eighth inning rally by grounding into a double play and has a batting average – .056 – that seems to belong in a penny-stock SE filing.
It was indicatively pathetic that in the sixth inning when the Dodgers loaded the bases, some Dodger fans lined up at a concession stand were heard hoping that shortstop Justin Sellers – who is hitless this season – might draw an RBI walk from Pirates reliever Jared Hughes who was struggling to find the strike zone.
With Kershaw working on a two-hitter, the real question was how human the 25-year-old lefty would be in the late innings.
In the seventh, Kershaw issued his first walk – to Pirate catcher Russell Martin -- and turned it into a dramatic defensive gem when he picked off his former battery mate to end the inning.
Kershaw didn’t take the mound in the eighth, leaving after fanning nine and giving up two hits to Starling Marte. He gave way to the Dodger bullpen and a multitude of prayers.
Relievers Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen retired the Pirates in the eighth inning and Brandon League recorded the save in the ninth.
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be a Dodger fan when Koufax was pitching, at the Dodger Stadium theme park Saturday night, this was a sample of that thrill ride.