Pitcher wins might be a discounted stat in modern baseball culture, an old-school relic considered too unrepresentative for the sport’s modern analytical era.
On Tuesday night, however, Clayton Kershaw offered a resounding counter-argument, deserving every little bit of his landmark 200th career win.
With a scoreless, spectacular, seven-inning gem, Kershaw willed the Dodgers to 5-0 defeat of the New York Mets, eclipsing the latest milestone of his legendary career in historic fashion and dominant style.
Not only did the 35-year-old left-hander become the 117th major league pitcher to reach the 200-victory club, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, but he got there with a higher career winning percentage (.694) than any other member.
Kershaw also became the third pitcher in Dodgers history with 200 wins, joining Don Sutton and Don Drysdale. With nine strikeouts on the night, he moved into 22nd on MLB’s all-time list with 2,833.
Most of all, he delivered on a night the sputtering Dodgers (9-9) badly needed a momentum-building win.
The club entered Tuesday with a sub-.500 record and losses in seven of its last 10. Without star right fielder Mookie Betts (paternity list), catcher Will Smith (concussion) and utility man Chris Taylor (side), their already inconsistent lineup began the game looking woefully thin.
Manager Dave Roberts maintained pregame optimism, nonetheless, calling Kershaw’s chance for 200 wins a “very significant” moment for the 16th year pitcher.
“I think it’s all relative to the generation of player, and in this particular case, starters aren’t being used like they have been,” Roberts said. “But Clayton has withstood the test of time and performed at a very high level. And so for him, for us, the Dodgers, the fans — let’s all hope he gets it tonight at home.”
Four pitches into the game, Kershaw’s margin for error further narrowed, when Jason Heyward’s dropped fly ball in right put a runner on third with no outs in the first inning.
From there, though, Kershaw tapped into the kind of vintage form that has defined his future Hall of Fame career, striking out three batters in a row to kick off a spotless 105-pitch tear.
He located fastballs to the top and the bottom of the zone, compensating for his long-ago decreased velocity with an unwavering ability to dial in his command.
He got awkward whiffs on big, looping curveballs. He buried a barrage of sliders down and in.
Through the first six innings, the only hit he surrendered was an infield single. After a pair of early home runs from J.D. Martinez, he cruised with a three-run lead.
Finally, in the top of the seventh, Kershaw faced his first and only true jam. Mark Canha won a 13-pitch with a two-out single. Jeff McNeil immediately followed with another base hit.
As Tommy Pham came to the plate, Kershaw circled and settled his emotions, breathing heavily beneath the brim of a sweat-stained cap.
Then, the face of the Dodgers franchise authored the night’s most signature moment, uncorking a full-count slider past a flailing Pham to end the inning.
Already on their feet, a crowd of 46,884 roared in appreciation. And as he stomped off the mound, it was a fired-up, head-down, clenched-fist Kershaw who bellowed what was surely the ballpark’s loudest scream.
“The wins … mean more to him because it’s longevity,” Roberts said. “Clayton respects people that do things for a long period of time. And, you know, lightning strikes on a lot of people. Stars align to have a good year or a good couple of years. But to have [the] amount of strikeouts that he has and to have 200 wins. I think that for him, that’s something that he values, and he should.”
Mookie Betts on paternity list
Betts missed Tuesday’s game after being placed on the paternity list, but is expected to rejoin the team on Wednesday. The only twist, manager Dave Roberts said, is that Betts could play second base or shortstop — the latter representing a new potential position for the former MVP.
“He’s been clamoring for quite some time,” manager Dave Roberts said. “So we’ll see how it plays out.”
The need for another shortstop arose after Taylor was removed from Monday’s game with a side injury. For now, Taylor isn’t going on the injured list. Roberts, however, said it remains a possibility, especially after utility man Luke Williams was recalled to replace Betts on Tuesday.
The Dodgers also lost their starting shortstop, Miguel Rojas, in the fifth inning Tuesday, after he took a one-hopper earlier in the night to his midsection.
In a corresponding move Tuesday, reliever Daniel Hudson was transferred to the 60-day injured list, meaning he won’t return from last season’s torn ACL until at least June.
Will Smith’s return TBD
Any hopes Smith had of returning for Thursday night’s series opener in Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs were dashed by Roberts, who said that Thursday “is not gonna happen” for the Dodgers catcher, who was put on the seven-day concussion list Sunday.
Smith took three foul tips to the face mask in San Francisco last Tuesday and began experiencing headaches and dizziness on Thursday. But he felt good enough on Monday to go through a full workout and hit in the cage and said it was “possible” he could play Thursday.
Not so fast, said Roberts, who hopes Smith will return at some point during the four-game series in Chicago, “but I’m not counting on it,” he said.
“Will is getting better each day, but we’re still a ways out for me,” Roberts continued. “He’s still got to catch bullpens, work up a sweat, get his heart rate up, kind of go through the regular preparation for us to feel confident he can not have a setback. So yeah, he’s days away, at the minimum.”
Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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