At first, Clayton Kershaw’s pitching had teammates sprinting and diving for balls. Then he found a groove and flirted with a no-hitter.
The double came on the 112th and final pitch by Kershaw, a career high.
“I had fun today,” the 21-year-old left-hander said. “I felt good the whole game.”
Kershaw (2-3) benefited from three fine defensive plays in the first two innings, then settled down. Given a 6-0 lead by the third, he struck out nine and pitched around four walks. Kershaw even stymied Hanley Ramirez, who went 0-for-4, ending his 13-game hitting streak.
It was a performance reminiscent of another Dodgers left-hander, Sandy Koufax, who threw four no-hitters in the 1960s. Manager Joe Torre predicted Kershaw will come close again.
“He’s got the Koufax dominance, stuff-wise—the same type of curveball,” Torre said.
Kershaw caught the Marlins looking at third strikes with his curve, and he had success throwing about a dozen changeups, a season high. Those pitches complemented a 94 mph fastball.
Kershaw struck out Jeremy Hermida with his 100th pitch to start the seventh and went on to strike out the side for the only time. He had never pitched more than seven innings in his previous 28 major league starts, but Torre thought the youngster had enough left to complete a no-hitter.
Although Kershaw’s pitch count was in triple figures, taking him out before he allowed a hit would have been difficult, Torre and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said.
“No-hitters are sacred,” Honeycutt said. “They don’t come along too often.”
No decision was necessary. Ross started the eighth by pulling a high fastball into the gap on a 1-2 count to start the eighth.
“You don’t want to be on the lineup card on the wall inside a pitcher’s house,” Ross said.
Kershaw’s undoing might have been in the top of the inning, when he sat while the Dodgers scored four runs to make it 10-0.
“Every time there has been a long inning this season, it’s hard for me to get loose,” Kershaw said. “But I don’t think that’s the reason I gave up a hit.”
Torre sat four regulars for the day game following a night game, but the Dodgers’ defense was first-team caliber. Three of Florida’s first five batters had a shot at a hit but were robbed on catches by second baseman Orlando Hudson, left fielder Juan Pierre and right fielder Xavier Paul.
In the third, Kershaw’s strikeout total began to rapidly rise. Torre has witnessed at least five no-hitters, including two perfect games, and he said it was evident the lefty had no-hit stuff.
Torre tried not to jinx it.
“I never changed my seat after about the second inning,” Torre said.
Following Ross’ double, Torre summoned reliever Guillermo Mota. He gave up Emilio Bonifacio’s sacrifice fly in the eighth and a grand slam by Ross in the ninth.
Juan Castro hit his first home run and scored three times for the Dodgers, who completed a 4-2 trip. They’re 5-5 without suspended slugger Manny Ramirez but still have the best record in the majors.
Pierre, Ramirez’s replacement, had two doubles, a single and three RBIs to hike his average to .419. He finished 8 for 14 in the series with six runs and five RBIs.
“Manny who, you know?” Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “You almost wish Manny were here.”
John Koronka (0-2) was no match for Kershaw, committing two early throwing errors to give up two unearned runs.
“It was kind of embarrassing the first couple of innings, throwing those balls away,” Koronka said. “It took us right out of the game.”
Koronka was designated for assignment.