By Jon Weisman
The Titanic skipped the iceberg. The boys beat the breaks.
All the numbers are magic tonight. For the first time in their history, the Dodgers are going to the postseason for the third consecutive year.
Soaring on home runs by Kiké Hernandez, Justin Ruggiano and A.J. Ellis off 2014 World Series hero Madison Bumgarner, sailing on the Unsinkable Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers stood up and shook up San Francisco, 8-0, to win the 2015 National League West title.
For Kershaw, it was his first career one-hitter (Kevin Frandsen’s clean single in the second inning preventing next-level history) and the second consecutive year he pitched the Dodgers to the NL West title — an eight-run victory both times. For Ellis, it was the second time in three years he homered in a division-clinching game.
Next challenge: To end the 26-year drought without a World Series title, the Dodgers’ longest since they won their first World Series in 1955. They will face the New York Mets in the National League Division Series, beginning October 9.
With the Dodgers having lost eight times in their last 10 games, stuck for 100 hours in a row on a magic number of two to clinch the division, Kershaw rose to the occasion for, as if it were even possible, one of the most brilliant games of his brilliant career. He retired the final 19 batters, struck out 13 in all (two shy of his career high), while needing only 104 pitches for the 12th shutout of his career.
Kershaw has 294 strikeouts in 2015, putting him within striking distance of 300 for the year, though he will probably have an abbreviated start in the Dodgers’ regular-season finale Sunday. Either way, Kershaw has the most whiffs for an MLB pitcher since Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson topped the 300 mark in 2002.
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In his first start since returning from the disabled list, Hernandez provided the initial spark — or sparks. He led off the game with a single off Bumgarner, went to third on an omenic Kelby Tomlinson error, then scored on Justin Turner’s sacrifice fly — all before hitting the first Dodger homer to begin the third.
Though Kershaw was dealing, allowing his only single and walk in the third inning, it was a plenty tight game into the fifth, when whatever leverage Bumgarner was hanging onto seemed to give way when it took him 13 pitches to retire Kershaw — the longest at-bat by a big-league pitcher this year. The Dodgers didn’t score, but Bumgarner finished the fifth inning already at 100 pitches.
With two out in the sixth, Bumgarner hung a curveball that Ruggiano blasted for a 3-0 Dodger lead. Ellis went back-to-back to make it 4-0. In the eighth, the Dodgers broke it open with four runs, the big blow a team-leading sixth triple of the year by Andre Ethier.
Starting with the last out of the third inning, Kershaw retired 16 batters in a row, striking out 10 of them, to reach the ninth on 96 pitches.
Trevor Brown whiffed on three pitches. Angel Pagan flied to left on two pitches. Kelby Tomlinson took tow balls, then hit a slow chopper to shortstop, where Corey Seager flung to Adrian Gonzalez to ignite the celebration.
Next stop, playoffs.