Kershaw dominates Cards in finale

Kershaw dominates Cards

ST. LOUIS -- What was your summer job at 20?

Probably not starting and winning Major League Baseball games, as Clayton Kershaw did Thursday for the Dodgers.

Should we say prodigy? Even Manny Ramirez wasn't in the Major Leagues at age 20, and look how he turned out.

Ramirez homered yet again, his fourth in six games as a Dodger, supporting Kershaw in a 4-1 win over the Cardinals that helped the Dodgers avoid a series sweep.

Ramirez slugged a two-run homer off Kyle Lohse in the third inning after his first-inning walk set up James Loney's RBI single, all key factors as Kershaw outpitched 13-game-winner Kyle Lohse.

Kershaw (2-3) overcame a 25-pitch first inning to go seven innings against a Cardinals lineup that had punished Dodgers pitching for 15 runs the first two games of the series. He allowed only a fifth-inning run, on a two-out RBI single by former Dodger Cesar Izturis, snapping a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings, the most for a 20-year-old Dodgers left-hander since Fernandomania.

Kershawmania, however, will probably take a back seat to Mannymania, at least for as long as the newest Dodger continues to homer every game or so.

"Since Manny's come on board, we certainly have a different feel in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field," said manager Joe Torre. "He gets the other team's attention."

Ramirez kept to the pattern he's shown for his week as a Dodger, talkative before the game, subdued after it, no matter how many runs he's driven in.

"I'm just learning the league," said Ramirez, who is a straight-A student based on this five-game line: .565 average, four homers, nine RBIs, seven runs, zero controversies.

Ramirez seems to be the same hitter no matter the league, the pitcher, the ballpark or whether he's protected by David Ortiz or Loney.


"He's growing up out there and maturing and the results are starting to come."
-- Catcher Danny Ardoin,
on Clayton Kershaw

But the offense he's been dropped into seemed to work better with a tweak to the batting order. With catcher Russell Martin getting a day off, Torre unveiled a new lineup with Jeff Kent batting third ahead of Ramirez.

Torre indicated getting Wednesday night off refreshed Kent on Thursday, and it might lead to more days off for the 40-year-old. Torre also said Kent's three hits and two runs could translate into a continuation of that three-hole experiment when he does play.

"I'm certainly going to look at it," Torre said of Kent batting third. "I think I'll move Russell to another spot. Jeff certainly gave us a lift today."

Perhaps a more impressive lift was provided by Kershaw, especially with the Dodgers facing a sweep after the Cardinals had pounded Derek Lowe the previous game and burdened the bullpen. The hard-throwing lefty was amped up in the first inning, issuing two-out walks to the pair of Cardinals that had homered in the first two games, Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick.

But Kershaw escaped trouble by popping up Troy Glaus on a 3-1 pitch to end the first inning and sailed through the next six frames. The only run he allowed was in the fifth, after he fumbled a two-out roller by Aaron Miles he later said he should have let roll foul. Miles advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Izturis' single.

Kershaw wowed Torre in the sixth, getting Pujols on a weak-swing grounder, striking out Ludwick, carefully walking Glaus and getting Felipe Lopez on a force-out grounder.

"That's three in a row he's been pretty impressive," Torre said. "Nothing's easy the way these guys knocked us around the last couple of games, but he got us back on track."

Kershaw, who returned from a second stint at Double-A 2 1/2 weeks ago, was pleased but not satisfied.

"Today wasn't pretty, but I got the job done. I was kind of effectively wild," said Kershaw, who had walked only two in his previous 12 innings but four in this game to go with seven strikeouts.

"The first inning, I was a little out of sync, then I settled in. For me to be effective, I don't think I can ever pull back from anything. I need to be aggressive. I came back out better in the second inning. That's what pitchers have to do, make quick adjustments."

Kershaw just might be getting real good, real quick.

"He's growing up out there and maturing and the results are starting to come," said catcher Danny Ardoin.

Hong-Chih Kuo pitched a perfect eighth inning and Jonathan Broxton overcame two baserunners by striking out the last two Cardinals for his sixth save in his first appearance in six days after being rested with a weary arm.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.