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Comparisons to Koufax follow Kershaw

Comparisons to Koufax follow Kershaw

LOS ANGELES -- The first time Dodgers manager Joe Torre saw Clayton Kershaw pitch in a game two springs ago, he uttered the name Sandy Koufax and the bar was forever set way high.

This is still Kershaw's first full Major League season. He's only 21. When he takes the mound Thursday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against St. Louis at 3:07 p.m. PT on TBS, he will be the youngest Dodgers pitcher to start a postseason game since Fernando Valenzuela was 20 in 1981.

Kershaw is coming off the kind of game Koufax might have pitched. For five consecutive games, the Dodgers had a magic number of one to clinch the NL West and answered with five consecutive losses.

Pulse
Dodgers at a glance
2009 record: 95-67
2008 record: 84-78
NL West champs
NL best record
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Buy now

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Loney: Taking good swings
Kuo: Long road back
Thome: Back in Philly
Loney: Building resume
Bullpen: Led by Broxton
Torre: Rep precedes him
Blake: Chemistry guy
Kershaw: Game 1 nod?
Dodgers: Eyes on prize
Kemp: Path of the pros
Furcal: Back healthy
Kershaw: Like Koufax
Hudson: Keeping head up
Billingsley: Unknown role
Ethier: Slump over
Torre: Tough decisions
Kershaw: Elite comparisons
Kemp: Nearly elite
Kershaw: Path to the pros
Billingsley: Fate in balance
Ethier: Aims to improve
Torre: Back to playoffs
Kershaw: Ready to rock
Rotation: Plenty of options
Kemp: Chasing LA history
Bullpen: Dominant pair
Honeycutt: Pitching guru
Kemp: Tools to match talent
Ethier: Walk-off wonder
Billingsley: Vying for spot
Ethier/Kemp: Dynamic duo
Torre: Another pennant race
Pierre: Receives high praise
Kershaw: Beyond his years

"We've tried to protect this kid the last year or so from any outside pressures or game pressures and watch his pitch count," said Torre, "and then you hand him the ball Saturday and he wins a game that we couldn't win for a week. He didn't win it, but he pitched well enough to win it."

Kershaw pitched six scoreless innings, left the tie game and the Dodgers scored five in the seventh to lock up the division.

Kershaw reminded Maury Wills of, well, Sandy Koufax.

"I look at Kershaw and think of Sandy," said Wills, a teammate of Koufax from 1959-66. "I talk to Clayton about Sandy, to plant a seed in his mind about having Koufax-type ability and the type of talent and the type of future. They say if a pitcher can quarter the strike zone, he can win. Sandy Koufax could pitch quarter to quarter. Kershaw is still working on his command. It will come with time and more experience."

Young Gun
Through the age of 21, Sandy Koufax was 9-10 with a 4.00 ERA. Clayton Kershaw is 13-13 with a 3.36 ERA. Koufax didn't make a postseason start until he was 23.

Wills had the good fortune of playing during Koufax's prime, when the left-hander put up numbers that were just sick -- three Cy Young Awards and five consecutive ERA titles.

But Don Newcombe has a different perspective of Koufax. They were teammates from Koufax's rookie season of 1955 until Newcombe was traded to Cincinnati in 1958. As Newcombe put it, they were teammates when Koufax "couldn't throw batting practice and keep it in the cage." And what he says about the comparison is, in some ways, even more complimentary to Kershaw.

"I wouldn't compare Kershaw, or anybody, to Koufax over his career. That's not fair to Kershaw and it's not fair to Sandy," said Newcombe.

"But if you're talking about how they compare at the age of 21, that's different. There's no comparison. Sandy couldn't do what Kershaw has done. Sandy had no Minor League experience. He came to us and sat on the bench. When he threw batting practice, I wouldn't hit against him. He threw too hard and threw too wild. In 1961 when I was with Cincinnati, I told Sandy to sacrifice speed for accuracy. He worked with [catcher] Norm Sherry and that's what made him the best pitcher in baseball the next six years."

Through the age of 21, Koufax was 9-10 with a 4.00 ERA. Kershaw is 13-13 with a 3.36 ERA. Koufax didn't make a postseason start until he was 23.

Ken Gurnick 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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