The generational pitchers' duel evolved into a battle of bullpens that the Dodgers won, 7-2, with Russell Martin's three hits and three RBIs lifting the Dodgers to a wild winning start of a 10-game trip.
It was last June 10 when Matt Kemp was promoted from Triple-A, two days after James Loney also arrived for good. The Dodgers were five games below .500 from that point until the end of the season, and are another two games below .500 this year.
Undeniably, with youth come growing pains. But there are also flashes of brilliance, as the Dodgers displayed here. The 23-year-old Kemp, for example, also drove in three runs, all coming while he hustled out infield grounders. The 24-year-old Loney reached base safely all five at-bats. Kershaw was typically wild in his fourth start, but kept his club close. The 23-year-old Jonathan Broxton struck out all four batters he faced and Cory Wade pitched a scoreless ninth.
Of course, when the discussion involves the best young Dodger, it begins and ends with the 25-year-old Martin. He's batting .321 and leads the offense with 32 runs. He scored twice, once on an acrobatic slide around catcher Michael Barrett, and stole a base.
"He's pretty darn important for us, no question," said manager Joe Torre. "He does a lot of things to help us win. He catches, he hits, he runs the bases, and catchers usually don't have that ability. He has the ability to hit the ball to all fields. In that situation, the game doesn't speed up for him. He's had a lot of big at-bats for us. Tonight, that was huge."
Martin singled in a first-inning run by taking Maddux to right field, singled off him again in the fourth, and had the clutch two-run single off Heath Bell to right field that keyed a four-run seventh, hustling home from second base when Kemp followed with an infield single.
Martin came into the game 0-for-8 against Maddux and 0-for-7 against Bell. He agreed that having caught Maddux at the end of the 2006 season helped him hit Maddux in 2008.
"A little bit," he said. "He's a simple pitcher. He's going to stay away, use the two-seamer, make you hit the ball where his defense plays. He won't try to strike you out. He'll make you just miss it, and he's been like that a long time."
So, while Maddux tries to beat you with his brain, Kershaw relies more on brawn. This was his best of four starts, although he gave away a run in the third with a pair of walks and a wild pitch.
"The two walks in a row were frustrating, because it gets my pitch count up and I have to come out early again," said Kershaw, who made 92 pitches. He walked four in 5 1/3 innings, giving him 13 walks in 20 innings.
"I thought he was fine," said Torre. "A little wild at times, from the fact that he's not there yet. He overthrew some balls."
The Padres were impressed.
"He was throwing 95 but it looked 100," said Maddux. "He was sneaky quick."
"He had a really good fastball," said San Diego catcher Michael Barrett. "It's hard to believe that a kid at 20 years old could be pitching on the Major League level. I know he doesn't have the numbers of a guy who's had a lot of success but he had success today. And it's hard to believe that a 20-year-old can have that kind of success at this level. I just think it shows how good he is."
The Dodgers bullpen followed Kershaw with 3 2/3 scoreless innings, although Scott Proctor's first pitch was wild, allowing a runner he inherited from Kershaw to score.
But the Dodgers took advantage of some sloppy San Diego outfield play in the decisive seventh inning. Right fielder Brian Giles lost Delwyn Young's pinch-double in the lights, then left fielder Justin Huber lost Juan Pierre's fly ball for a single. Padres manager Bud Black ran through four pitchers that inning, but it was left-hander Justin Hampson's walk to Andre Ethier to load the bases that set the stage for Martin's two-run single.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.