With a four-hit masterpiece, Kershaw recorded his first career complete game and shutout, a 1-0 win over the Giants, making an unearned run stand while his teammates had only one hit, Matt Kemp's second-inning single.
"Hopefully the first of many," said Kershaw, now only 136 complete games and 39 shutouts shy of Koufax's career totals.
This was the first time the Dodgers have won a game with only one hit since 1965, when Koufax threw a 1-0 perfect game at the Cubs.
Kershaw (12-10) wasn't perfect, but he was better than he's ever been. Haunted by high pitch counts as he learned on the job in past years, he made only 111 pitches in his 81st start, without a walk. With four strikeouts, he reached 201, and the nine innings gave him 192 1/3, his ERA down to 2.85.
"That was a lot of fun, for sure," he said. "They're an aggressive team and I kept my pitch count down."
He breezed through a 1-2-3 first inning for the third consecutive start, after failing to record a clean first inning in every previous start this year.
"What about that one, guys?" manager Joe Torre said. "That was an absolute gem. For a kid with limited exposure, he doesn't rattle. He's been really special in his short time in the big leagues."
Torre said he never considered removing Kershaw, letting him bat in the top of the eighth and leaving him in despite allowing a two-out single to Freddy Sanchez in the ninth with Hong-Chih Kuo warming up in the bullpen.
But with an 0-2 count to Aubrey Huff, Kershaw shook off catcher Rod Barajas' sign for a fastball and threw a slider that Huff swung through, Kershaw spinning off the mound with a celebratory fist pump.
"They were swinging at a lot of pitches and I got quick outs," said Kershaw, this time shaking off the credit. "That's all there was to it."
Not exactly, according to Barajas.
"Unbelievable," he said. "We were pitching off the fastball and didn't feel they were really getting good swings at it, and until they made an adjustment, we stayed with it. You could see them cheating on the ball and 94 [mph] inside, they couldn't hit it fair.
"From day one the first time I caught him, I didn't realize how good the guy was. His slider is something I had no clue he throws it as well as he does. It's almost as good as the curveball. His changeup was great today. The kid's going to have four very good big league pitches next year."
Coming into this season, Kershaw's changeup was a work in progress and the slider was less than that. But he's one young Dodger who keeps getting better.
Offensively, the Dodgers were even worse than usual. They scored in the sixth inning off Barry Zito on a hit batter (Reed Johnson), two walks (Rafael Furcal and Andre Ethier) and an error, shortstop Juan Uribe fielding Casey Blake's two-out bases-loaded grounder but fumbling the transfer from glove to hand when all he wanted to do was flip to second base for an inning-ending forceout.
"It was an easy play. It's my fault," said Uribe.
"Finally, we scored a bunch of runs for him," Torre joked, knowing that the Dodgers had scored two runs or fewer in six of Kershaw's 10 losses. "The kid's been starving for runs and we get an unearned run to boot."
Zito said the pitch that hit Johnson and got the "rally" going wasn't a bad one.
"I just think it surprised him, so he didn't get out of the way," said Zito. "It may have actually been over the black of the plate. It was pretty much where I wanted it to be."
Barajas joked that the Dodgers' quiet offense assisted Kershaw.
"It might have helped that we were not doing much at the plate, because he was able to get right back out there," he said.
Kershaw came into this game with only one win since July 25, even though seven of eight starts since had been quality starts.
And since the Dodgers have already spoiled their season, now they have a chance to spoil everybody else's ahead of them in the National League West. The loss dropped the Giants 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Padres.
"With as much trash as I heard from the fans, it's nice," said Barajas, a native Angeleno feeling for the first time the Dodgers-Giants rivalry while wearing the Los Angeles grays.
"I don't know if I've ever played a game that had more bad things said to me. They were tough on me personally. It's nice to send them home unhappy. It felt good. We have a chance to win the series and send them home unhappy again."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.