Clayton Kershaw

Longtime nemesis Kershaw pushes Giants closer to elimination

NBC Universal, Inc.

LOS ANGELES -- There will come a time, whether on the bus ride home Saturday night, or the flight on Sunday, or this offseason, when the four rookies in the Giants' lineup realize what a cool experience they had at Dodger Stadium.

Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, Tyler Fitzgerald and Patrick Bailey hit in that order against Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of his generation, on Saturday night. They got to face a player who should soon be a unanimous first-ballot Hall-of-Famer -- and unfortunately for the Giants, they got a taste of what Kershaw has been doing to the organization since the days when the young players had names like Posey, Belt and Crawford.

Kershaw didn't even touch 90 mph, but he battled through five shutout innings, relying on a dominant slider to lead the Dodgers to a 7-0 win. The victory was Kershaw's 26th against the Giants, a list that includes a memorable clincher at Oracle Park in 2015. 

The Dodgers lost eight of 10 down the stretch that season to briefly give the Giants a chance for a miracle run over the final couple of weeks, but Bruce Bochy's bunch was banged up and patching the lineup together. Kershaw came into San Francisco on Sept. 27 of that year and emphatically put an end to any dreams, striking out 13 in a shutout win. 

That Giants team had a disappointing year and finished 84-78. This one will need to win out just to reach that mark.

The goal at this point isn't even that lofty. The Giants hope to finish above .500, a somewhat tall task given that they're now a game under and face the Dodgers four more times. They will try and hold off the San Diego Padres, who are just a game back. This collapse will look even worse if the Giants finish fourth and under .500.

Regardless, they are close to guaranteeing that their only chance of seeing Kershaw in October is to turn on the TV. Their elimination number is down to four, meaning any combination of four Giants losses or Chicago Cubs wins will officially end their playoff push.

Kershaw did his part to nudge the Giants in that direction, lowering his career ERA against them to 1.99 while picking up his 210th career win. Gabe Kapler doesn't like to talk about the opposition, but sometimes exceptions are made. 

"I think what I find most interesting about Clayton is he doesn't necessarily have to throw 94 (mph). I was actually talking to some of the younger players about the honor of facing a pitcher of that caliber and one of the best pitchers of our generation and of all-time, but he does it with a craftiness that's really second to none," Kapler said. "His slider, curveball, fastball combination keeps you off balance and he spots it up. Even at 88-90 mph, he can shut you down like he did today. That's what Clayton did well.

"What we didn't do well enough is make sure that his fastball was in the middle of the plate. He does such a good job of keeping that slider in or off, or down below the plate. You really have to lay off that pitch and we just didn't do a good enough job. We've got to be better than that if we're going to beat the best."

The Giants repeatedly bounced grounders to Max Muncy at third, although Luciano did break up the monotony with a 107.5 mph rocket to the wall in right. The double seemed to catch Jason Heyward off guard with how hard it was hit, and it was the latest positive moment for a 22-year-old who might be playing himself into a starting job heading into the offseason. 

The Giants hoped to be making those decisions after an October run. Instead, they have just seven games left, including one at home against Kershaw, who could be making his final regular-season appearance when he starts at Oracle Park next weekend. If that's it for him, it would be an appropriate final stop. Kershaw is a Dodger, but he has been so dominant for so long that even the rival clubhouse knows it's only right to show appreciation. 

"It's impressive. I don't know how old he is -- I don't think he's that old, but he's been doing it forever, and you see his numbers are still insane," Giants pitcher Jakob Junis said. "He's arguably one of the greatest pitchers of all time. He's got really good numbers against us too, unfortunately."

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