SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly entered the eighth inning planning to take out Clayton Kershaw after the first batter. The left-hander retired Joe Panik on one pitch, and as Mattingly walked to the mound, he noticed Kershaw shaking his head and waving him back to the dugout.
“At that point, who am I to stop him?” Mattingly said.
Right now, seemingly nobody can.
Kershaw struck out Buster Posey on three wicked sliders before getting Hunter Pence to fly out, and was done for real. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth to seal Kershaw’s major league-leading 19th win, and the Dodgers moved three games ahead of San Francisco in the NL West with a 4-2 victory over the Giants on Sunday.
“It’s obviously a huge series for us, and the way we did it is pretty cool,” Kershaw said.
Los Angeles leaned on its ace for the rubber game of a series that had been as topsy-turvy as any the NL West rivals have ever played. The Dodgers won 17-0 on Saturday after losing 9-0 to the Giants on Friday.
Kershaw (19-3) boosted his credentials for the NL MVP and a third Cy Young Award with another big performance in a big start. The left-hander allowed seven hits, struck out nine and walked one in eight innings.
He lowered his majors-best ERA to 1.70, and put the Dodgers in command of the division.
“We kind of call him the big train, because he just keeps coming,” Mattingly said.
Matt Kemp hit his 20th homer, and Juan Uribe and A.J. Ellis each drove in a run to back Kershaw’s latest gem. Buster Posey and pinch-hitter Matt Duffy had RBI singles for San Francisco.
The Dodgers and Giants have split 16 games this season. They have three games left against each other at Dodger Stadium next week, but San Francisco might be left trying to hold onto a wild card spot by then.
The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in the second when the Giants committed two throwing errors trying to nab a hustling Hanley Ramirez on the bases after Uribe singled, then Ellis had a sacrifice fly.
The Giants cracked Kershaw in the third, though they wasted the opportunity. Posey singled home Petit before getting thrown out by center fielder Yasiel Puig going for second, stranding Panik on third.
“When you make a couple of mistakes and have a guy like Kershaw on the mound, it comes back to hurt you,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
San Francisco seemed to be regaining the momentum behind Petit (5-4) and the announced sellout crowd of 41,932, but Kemp ended that with one swing in the sixth. His two-run homer to left-center put the Dodgers up 4-1, touching off another bubble-filled celebration in the visiting dugout at AT&T Park.
Petit gave up four runs — three earned — and eight hits in seven innings. He struck out eight and walked none.
Kershaw was thrown out at second by right fielder Hunter Pence trying to stretch a single into a double in the seventh. In the bottom half, Duffy’s bloop single sliced Los Angeles’ lead to 4-2.
But Kershaw quickly squashed San Francisco’s rally. He has gone at least eight innings in seven straight starts — perhaps none bigger than his latest.
“The way he finished,” Ellis said, “kind of speaks a lot to his character and his will to win and his will to compete.”
Dodgers 2B Dee Gordon and Puig got tangled up going for Duffy’s bloop in shallow center field, but both stayed in the game. Mattingly said Puig collided with one of Gordon’s knees, which is just a little sore.
Dodgers: RHP Carlos Frias (0-0, 3.91 ERA) will likely make his second career start Wednesday at Colorado in place of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is scheduled to have an MRI on his troublesome left shoulder Monday.
Giants: 1B Brandon Belt (concussion) will face pitchers before Monday’s game at Arizona and will likely be activated Tuesday or Wednesday.