LOS ANGELES -- Perhaps it only feels this way, but for the first time in 2015 something went Clayton Kershaw's way Tuesday night.
If Kershaw's first nine starts of carrying a 4.32 ERA taught us nothing else, it should be the vicissitudes of pitching, the surprisingly fine line between outright dominance -- a rare MVP trophy in a pitcher's living room, say -- and having to endure an endless line of questions about what's troubling you.
At that pivotal moment when something had so often gone wrong for Kershaw this season, something went right.
Howie Kendrick caught a ball. Well, he didn't actually catch it. He dove, smothered it in his glove after a series of rapid hops, got to his feet and threw out Pedro Ciriaco at first base. That helped Kershaw get out of the only jam that qualified as mildly scary in Tuesday night's 8-0 Los Angeles Dodgers' win over the Atlanta Braves.
The Dodgers, under their new hyper-analytic front office, leave nothing to chance and the team was playing Ciriaco, a right-handed hitter, slightly to pull with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth inning. Catcher A.J. Ellis set up inside, but Kershaw missed a spot and threw a 94-mph fastball on the outer half of the plate.
Ciriaco waited, flicked his bat at it and sent it bouncing rapidly toward the hole between first and second base. If you've seen Kershaw in what have been portrayed as his struggles this season, you had a pretty good idea where this one was going. It would find the outfield grass, a run would score and, pretty soon, a cheap hit or two would fall in, starting that snowball slowly rolling downhill.
Instead, Kendrick took a couple of quick steps, dove and had it. Maybe, just maybe that was the moment Kershaw's luck turned?
"I just reacted to it," Kendrick said.
Kershaw would leave little else to chance during his seven shutout innings Tuesday night, his cleanest outing of 2015, one highlighted by 10 strikeouts and a freeze-the-knees curveball. Afterward, Kershaw (3-3) and the people who have been watching his season unfold would say it wasn't so different from those three-, four- and five-run outings that came before it, right before it.
"It's been a lot of the same. Tonight, he got the zeroes," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "He got out of an inning there to keep a guy from scoring, but his stuff has been similar every time out. It's like I've had to defend him, but he doesn't need defending. He's thrown the ball well. Tonight, he got better results."
Of course, getting zeroes is kind of the point for Kershaw and other starting pitchers, which is why -- though his peripherals were nearly as impressive as always -- having Kershaw stuck on mediocre in the wins and ERA department were, of course, a problem for the Dodgers over these first two months. They're also why Kershaw has been so grumpy at times talking about it all.
"I'm just trying to win, trying to pitch. People are going to have opinions, I guess, and that's great and people have high expectations for me, too, which is great, but at the end of the day I only care what my teammates or coaches think," Kershaw said. "If they see something and want to tell me, great. Otherwise, I don't really care."
So, was there anything wrong with him all along?
"There's stuff wrong -- giving up runs -- but it's not, ‘What's wrong,' I think, just minor tweaks here and there," he said.
Kendrick used to have to face Kershaw a few times a year and he'd rather play defense behind him.
"I think early in the year, it's easy to point fingers and that's why we play 162. You can have one bad month or a bad couple of days and, for pitchers, you only get like one start a week," Kendrick said. "A couple of those go wrong and people start asking questions, but the guy's a hard worker and his career should tell you he's pretty consistent. Tonight, he went out and did what he normally does."
If there's one thing that could set this Dodgers season on a permanently successful path, it's for Kershaw to keep doing what he normally does.