LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw doesn't feel like a potential no-hitter is serious until it lasts through six innings. Before that, it's just the everyday dominance that Dodgers fans have come to expect over his 13 years in blue.
Although Kershaw's latest no-hit bid ended one out shy of the serious innings, Los Angeles' veteran ace put together another historic performance that indicates he's healthy, sharp — and perhaps just as good as ever.
Kershaw reached two career strikeout milestones and held Arizona hitless into the sixth inning Thursday night, leading the Dodgers past the Diamondbacks 5-1 for their fifth straight victory.
While racking up eight strikeouts over six scoreless innings, Kershaw (5-1) became the 39th pitcher in major league history with 2,500 strikeouts when he fanned Nick Ahmed in the second. The left-hander then caught and passed Christy Mathewson (2,502) for 38th place on baseball’s career list by getting Carson Kelly and Tim Locastro in the third.
Kershaw didn't know exactly what to say about seeing his name next to Mathewson, the New York Giants Hall of Famer whose playing career ended 104 years ago.
“It’s cool, it really is,” he said. “It’s just hard for me think about or wrap my head around. Getting to see your name on different types of leader boards is cool. It’s just hard to grasp, really.”
AJ Pollock had a pinch-hit homer and Mookie Betts added an RBI single in the seventh for the major league-leading Dodgers (29-10), who have won 18 of 21. Corey Seager had three hits for Los Angeles, which has also won 10 straight at Dodger Stadium after sweeping Arizona.
Kershaw, who threw his only previous no-hitter in 2014, allowed three baserunners but no hits until Christian Walker hit a grounder to shortstop with two outs in the sixth. Kiké Hernandez made the stop but had a tough throw, and it forced Cody Bellinger to jump off the bag at first, making Walker safe by inches.
“If I were to get through the sixth there, I think after that it starts becoming maybe a little more real,” Kershaw said. “Up until then, it’s not really real until after the sixth, and after the seventh you’ve got a real chance.”
Kershaw calmly got a grounder from David Peralta on his 99th and final pitch. Manager Dave Roberts said Peralta would have been Kershaw's final batter even if he still had a no-hitter intact, since the dominant Dodgers can already focus on keeping their arms fresh for October.
During this coronavirus-shortened season, the 32-year-old Kershaw is on a roll that resembles the most dominant stretches of his incredible career. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner has thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings since Aug. 20, and he has given up just two runs and 10 hits with 29 strikeouts in 26 innings over his last four starts.
Diamondbacks starter Luke Weaver was excited by the chance to pitch against Kershaw for the first time, even if his tough first inning put Arizona into a hole it never escaped.
“I’ve seen him pitch a couple of times, but I did have a moment during the game where I was ready to go to battle and have a duel out there and just kind of match it,” said Weaver, who retired 14 straight Dodgers at one point. “He obviously had a great game, and he’s been doing it for a long time.”
Roberts sees a difference in his ace this season from the past two years, when his ERA and WHIP rose to unusual levels — but it isn't about Kershaw's ability. Instead, it's the absence of the back pain that dogged Kershaw over those years and into this season, when he started July on the injured list.
“Clayton has done a great job trying to get back, working hard and diligently every single day," Roberts said. "That’s No. 1. For him to not have to guard and protect against his body or his back or whatever just gives him the freedom to execute pitches. ... He feels healthy and strong. He was our ace last year, and he’s pitching like an ace again."
Weaver (1-6) rebounded from a tough first inning to pitch 5 1/3 innings of four-hit ball, but the free-falling Diamondbacks have lost 13 of 14. Arizona had 14 total hits in these three games in Chavez Ravine.
“We’ve got to find our way out of this, and we will,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “It’s hard to walk through what we’re doing and remain as positive as this group has been. With the pitching setting the tone, that’s very encouraging. It’s been very good over the past 14 games. We’ve just got to match things up on the other side of the ball, and we know that day is coming.”
Los Angeles jumped ahead in the first when Seager singled and scored on Bellinger’s ground ball before Chris Taylor added an RBI single.
Pollock, the longtime Arizona slugger, mashed his first pitch from Keury Mella to straightaway centre for his seventh homer. Betts then drove in his 28th run of his stellar Dodgers debut season.
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The Dodgers completed their fifth series sweep of the season. On Wednesday, they extended their season-opening streak without losing a series to 13, just one shy of the franchise record set in 1977.
Diamondbacks: LHP Travis Bergen made his Arizona debut with two outs of relief in the sixth after he was recalled earlier Thursday.
Dodgers: Bellinger went 0 for 4 in the 2019 NL MVP’s return from a two-game absence with a sore lateral muscle.
Diamondbacks: Taylor Clarke (1-0, 2.22 ERA) takes the mound in San Francisco.
Dodgers: Dustin May (1-1, 2.83 ERA) makes his eighth start of the season in a series opener against the Rockies.
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Greg Beacham, The Associated Press