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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Kershaw is pulling away from the pack

Kershaw is pulling away from the pack

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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

LOS ANGELES -- After Clayton Kershaw gave the Dodgers eight shutout innings on Wednesday night, the Yankees were delighted to celebrate the departure of their sport's premier starting pitcher.

Three ninth-inning runs against the Dodgers' bullpen on a pair of walks, Lyle Overbay's single and a misplayed pop fly enabled Derek Jeter and Co. to leave town with a split of the Interleague set.

Left to explain how their 19-6 July magic expired, the Dodgers were no more efficient than they were offensively against former teammate Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan and the incomparable Mariano Rivera, who weaved a combined 3-0 shutout.

"I just know the answer he gave me after that inning," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said when asked about the decision to remove Kershaw following a 97-pitch effort. "We can tell with Clayton."

If Kershaw wasn't able to sell Mattingly on continuing, the lefty certainly didn't ask out. It was more a case of the boss reading his star's words and body language.

"It was tough," Kershaw said. "I put Donnie in a tough spot. We'll just leave it at what he said. It's fine. We'll leave it at that."

Confusing the issue was Mattingly's decision to let Kershaw bunt Juan Uribe to second in the bottom of the eighth after Uribe's leadoff single against Logan. Kershaw's bunt was excellent, but Uribe was stranded at second when Adrian Gonzalez flied out following an intentional walk to Yasiel Puig.

Kershaw's final inning required extra effort. Two-out singles by Chris Stewart and pinch-hitter Melky Mesa had him in a jam, but he brought the sellout crowd to its feet by retiring Brett Gardner on a fly ball to left to quell the threat.

Mattingly felt that additional labor caused by the two singles depleted Kershaw, who needed 118 pitches and eight innings to get through his previous start, a victory against the Reds. In came Ronald Belisario, and a walk to Jeter started the decisive ninth.

Only Justin Verlander has thrown more pitches this season than Kershaw's 2,453 in his 23 starts. Verlander, throwing 10 more pitches than Kershaw, has a 3.88 ERA, two full runs higher than the Major League-best 1.87 of the Dodgers' ace.

A.J. Ellis, Kershaw's articulate batterymate, was invited to weigh in on his pitcher's exit.

"He's a competitor," Ellis said. "He never wants to come out of a game. It's what makes him so special. I wouldn't expect him to be any less than frustrated when he comes out of a game.

"He had done his part to give us a chance to win. We let him down offensively tonight. It's a shame that with the way he threw the ball tonight, he's not celebrating a win right now.

"He was great the whole game. He was locked in. It's just one of those special nights. We're spoiled having him on our team and on our pitching staff, because we're a teammate of somebody who is really, really special. The fact that he can come out every single start and reproduce what he does is what makes him the best in the league."

This was Kershaw's sixth start of the season in which he did not yield a run. Only twice has he yielded as many as four earned runs. He is 10-6 after a 4-1 July that features a 1.34 ERA in six starts.

By his implausibly high standards, Kershaw wasn't exceptionally sharp.

"I didn't have great fastball command," he said."I was falling behind a lot of guys. I was kind of fortunate I got some balls right at some guys."

Stewart, who grew up in Southern California as a Dodgers fan with a special affection for Mike Piazza, grounded out and flied out before his single through the middle in the eighth against Kershaw.

"He's got a good fastball, and his mechanics are a little funky," Stewart said. "He has tremendous feel for it. Sometimes it will end up straight on the outside corner, and sometimes it will cut in on you.

"He challenges you, too. He gave me a couple of 2-0 fastballs that were hittable. I didn't see any curveballs. All fastballs."

Known as Hiro to teammates, Kuroda, like Kershaw, did not get a decision and remained at 10-6, his ERA falling to 2.34.

Kershaw and Kuroda developed a strong bond as teammates with the Dodgers before Hiroki relocated in the Bronx in 2012. Ellis sees how facing Kuroda brings out the best in Clayton, his old buddy.

"He has more respect for Hiroki than any teammate he's ever had," Ellis said. "They came into the league together in 2008 and they really bonded as teammates. They always played catch together.

"Those guys fed off each other and they are great friends. Kersh has played recruiting coordinator year after year trying to get him to come back. We'd love to see him back here again. He's a great guy, one of the most professional players I've ever been around."

Puig and Hanley Ramirez, twin terrors all month, were a combined 0-for-7, Ramirez striking out three times. The final whiff came against Rivera.

In his final appearance at Dodger Stadium, assuming a World Series doesn't bring him back, the king of closers finished with an impeccable ninth for his 34th save. "The Sandman," to the end.

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

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