SAN FRANCISCO – Yusmeiro Petit is a slow breather on the mound. His default when he sets a major league record is to rub up another baseball.
So you understood the stakes in the first inning, when Petit wildly applauded into his glove after striking out Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp with a runner on second base. More important, you understood that he understood.
But the Giants were coming at Clayton Kershaw, who has a legitimate shot at becoming the first starting pitcher to win an NL MVP award since Bob Gibson in 1968. And on this pennant-feverish afternoon at AT&T Park, nobody was more valuable than the Dodgers’ dominant left-hander.
The Giants committed two errors on one play in a two-run second inning, Matt Kemp tagged a two-run home run on the only occasion Petit fell behind all day, and Kershaw mixed dread and deception as the Giants lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday.
Kershaw struck out nine in eight innings to become the major leagues’ first 19-game winner. His dominance over the Giants has been so complete that his lifetime ERA against them actually rose to 1.44.
He has thrown 16 consecutive quality starts against the Giants. No pitcher has done that since … well, Bob Gibson in 1968-72.
Most important, the Dodgers took two of three in the series and hold a three-game advantage in the NL West.
Starting pitching report
No wonder Petit says it’s so difficult to pitch when behind in the count. He fell behind with a 2-0 count just once all afternoon, and that’s when Kemp made him pay for a hanging slider.
Other than that, Petit was a strike-throwing machine yet again. He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 27 batters, and for the second consecutive start, he did not throw ball three. In fact, Petit has faced 62 consecutive batters without going to a three-ball count, and that dates back to an intentional walk (!) to Corey Dickerson in Colorado.
The Dodgers did not watch first-pitch strikes as the Arizona Diamondbacks did in Petit’s 84-pitch complete game last week. They came out hacking at the first pitch 13 times. But the hit that burned him came when he fell behind.
Petit struck out eight in seven innings. He has struck out 49 batters since his last unintentional walk back on July 22 – four starts and six relief appearances ago.
The Dodgers found a way to push ahead even before Kemp’s homer when Petit’s defense let him down in the second inning. Hanley Ramirez hit an infield single, Juan Uribe lined a hit past second baseman Joe Panik, and right fielder Hunter Pence came up throwing. An accurate feed would have arrived in time to throw out Ramirez, but Pence threw well wide of third baseman Pablo Sandoval and Petit, although he was backing up the play, wasn’t down the line far enough. Ramirez scampered home and Petit’s throw to the plate bounced in front of catcher Andrew Susac. Uribe took third base on the throw home, as both Petit and Pence took errors on the ugly play.
Uribe’s extra 90 feet proved costly when A.J. Ellis lofted a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Petit kept the ball off the barrel over the next three innings, but Adrian Gonzalez hit deep fly ball with one out in the sixth and center fielder Angel Pagan’s defensive shortcomings cost the Giants for a second consecutive day. Pagan took a banana-shaped route, couldn’t make the catch, and Petit pitched carefully to Kemp with first base open.
Susac came out for a mound visit after the first two pitches, and he probably didn’t counsel Petit to hang a slider. That’s what he did, and Kemp lashed it over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 4-1 lead.
Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland didn’t allow the Dodgers to add to their lead.
At the plate
The Giants have found a way to shade Kershaw a time or three in recent years, despite his continued dominance against them. Brandon Hicks hit a home run off him in a May 11 victory at Dodger Stadium. Brett Pill’s home run lingers in memory as well.
This time, the best they could do was scratch a pair of run, and drive up his pitch count just enough to ensure he couldn’t go the distance.
Petit had a hand in both efforts, fouling off three two-strike pitches in the midst of working a 10-pitch walk with one out in the third inning. Kershaw threw a backdoor curveball that plate umpire Doug Eddings liked considerably better than Pagan did. But Joe Panik pined a two-out single to right field, and Buster Posey followed with another hit to left-center.
Petit scored from second base and Posey, perhaps banking on Yasiel Puig’s overexuberance, tried to stretch a single. But Puig did not airmail his throw to the plate, or third base. He threw to second base to cut down Posey and prevent Hunter Pence from coming up in an RBI situation. (Petit also had to take the mound immediately after sprinting home, although it didn’t appear to affect him in the fourth.)
It was the bottom of the order that most taxed Kershaw, and created a run scoring rally in the seventh. Susac, who doubled in his first at-bat, hit a one-out single and Joaquin Arias followed with another. With two out, pinch hitter Matt Duffy swung at a first-pitch fastball that Kershaw didn’t bury in far enough, and Puig collided with Gordon as it dropped for an RBI single. Pagan grounded out to strand the tying runs on base.
It takes more than an outstanding start to match Kershaw. It takes a clean sheet in the field, too. And the Giants made enough mistakes to prove fatal.
The Giants announced 41,932 paid. Kershaw entered with a 0.69 ERA in 10 career starts at AT&T Park. At least it’s still free to hope.
The Giants start a three-city road trip at Arizona’s Chase Field on Monday. Ryan Vogelsong (8-10, 3.90 ERA) takes the mound against Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley (7-11, 4.28). First pitch is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. PDT. It’ll be Jake Peavy (5-4, 2.29) against right-hander Josh Collmenter (10-7, 3.67) on Tuesday and Madison Bumgarner (18-9, 2.91) against right-hander Randall Delgado (3-4, 5.48) on Wednesday.