07/09/10 2:40 AM ET
Furcal's homer backs Kershaw's 12 K's
Lefty strong through eight as Dodgers take opener from Cubs
By Evan Drellich / MLB.com
"I threw one," Kershaw said. "It was a ball."
The pitch is admittedly a work-in-progress, and at 22, Kershaw is still a pitcher in progress. But for the second time in his career and the second time in his last three starts, Kershaw didn't allow a walk Thursday at Dodger Stadium, and he set a season high with 12 strikeouts, one shy of his career best. Kershaw went eight innings and threw less than 100 pitches, relying on his slider.
Even if Kershaw is far from a final product, Thursday night was an example of how he's grown in the first half of 2010.
"Two years ago I didn't even have a slider, and then last year toward the end of the season I started throwing it," said Kershaw, who allowed seven hits and two runs. "It's a lot easier pitch to throw for me as opposed to the changeup. The changeup's still a work in progress ... the slider's not as much as a feel pitch. You can kid of just grip it and rip it."
It was the quickest game of the Dodgers' 2010 season: 2 hours, 15 minutes. From the fourth inning until there were two out in the bottom of the seventh, Kershaw was efficient, but losing. Chicago's Randy Wells, who fell to 0-3 in his career against the Dodgers despite a 2.18 ERA against them, was staked to a 2-1 lead from the fourth inning until there were two out in the bottom of the seventh.
Still in with Russell Martin on second base and two down in the seventh, Wells left his a first pitch cutter to Rafael Furcal over the plate. A day after Marlins ace Josh Johnson ended Furcal's hit streak at 10, Furcal zipped it just inside the right-field foul pole for a two-run homer and a 3-2 lead, which Kershaw and closer Jonathan Broxton made stand up.
The most recently named National League Player of the Week, Furcal is batting .500 with 17 runs scored, four home runs and 15 RBIs since June 26.
"It was something right in the middle," Furcal said. "I go to home plate looking for something I can hit, I don't look for fastball anything, breaking ball. Just try to see something in the middle and drive it. I didn't even know it was out, I knew I hit it hard. My main thing is push a little bit so that the ball gets fair at least."
Furcal was thinking triple with the ball in the air. Then he saw the fans go crazy.
"He hit it pretty good," said Wells, who went seven, struck out seven and allowed six hits. "Even though it's 325 [feet], 330, it's a pretty good poke. In that situation, you don't want to get beat with your fourth best pitch. That's the thing that stings. I could've gone sinker away, changeup away, something that was in my top two or three pitches. To go with your fourth best pitch there, especially after you've been doing it to him all night, is a tough thing as well."
The Dodgers first run was Furcal-powered as well. He started the bottom of the first with a double to right-center gap, and James Loney's two-out single to scored him for a 1-0 Dodgers lead.
Kershaw, who struck out four over the first two innings, made his only real mistake to Alfonso Soriano with one out in the top of the second. Soriano crushed his 15th home run of the season on a first-pitch fastball, tying the game at 1. The Cubs went up 2-1 two innings later when Aramis Ramirez hit a bloop double that was fair by only a few feet in right field, and scored on Geovany Soto's single up the middle on a slider Kershaw would've rather had back.
"The only frustration I gave up tonight was that hit to Soto with a pitch that I wish I could've had back," Kershaw said. "I was frustrated after that inning. But the one to Soriano, he hit it. Tip your cap, solo home runs are alright."
In a show of faith, manager Joe Torre let Kershaw sacrifice Martin to second instead of pinch-hitting with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Kershaw got the bunt down, and with the lead in the eighth, struck out the final two batters he faced on seven pitches.
Kershaw lobbied with Torre to go back out for the ninth, which Cubs No. 2 hitter Marlon Byrd was set to lead off, but Torre wasn't having it. "No, there was not even an entertainment," Torre said. "Never even warmed the band up on that one. Not where they were in the lineup, and Marlon Byrd had been 3-for-3 off of him. Plus we had a well rested Brox and that's his job."
"I told him I was bound to get Byrd out one of these days," said Kershaw, who stayed on the bench to see the win finished out. "I had some nervous energy going on, it's a lot easier to be out there. But you know I have all the confidence in the world in Brox."
Broxton struck out Byrd, who got himself ejected by first-base umpire Hunter Wendelstedt for arguing a check-swing strike three call, and Broxton, whose slider stayed around the middle of the zone, worked around a two-out single to earn his 19th save.
Evan Drellich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.