Clayton Kershaw struggles in Dodgers’ 4-1 loss

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The good news? Clayton Kershaw is back on a major league mound. It’s been a long 75 days, made even longer by the Dodgers’ constant retooling of the rotation. The bad news? Kershaw’s first appearance for the Dodgers looked like this:

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It’s not as if the Marlins have been particularly hot lately, going 7-3 in their last 10 games and placing fifth-lowest in total runs scored, but as with any return from an injury, it’s difficult to project any kind of success right out of the gate — even for the best in the game.

Kershaw delivered 66 pitches over three innings, getting ensnared in a long at-bat that was punished by a Jeff Francoeur double and even longer at-bats that, mercifully, culminated in several of the lefty’s five strikeouts. After J.T. Realmuto’s home run in the first inning, Kershaw let just one more run slip by on a line drive by Miami infielder Chris Johnson.

While Kershaw’s velocity was up, superseding even his season averages on his fastball, slider, and curveball, his command was shaky at best. Despite not allowing any walks, his belt-high sliders made easy targets for the Marlins’ lineup. It was hardly the dominant showing the Dodgers have come to expect from their ace, one for whom a nine-pitch inning is less of a fantasy and more of a reality.

Assuming that Kershaw doesn’t break out with another no-hit attempt in his next start, which should be Wednesday against the Yankees, the Dodgers are no longer in a place where they have to rest their hopes for a playoff berth on his shoulders. Getting a healthy ace back in the rotation on a consistent basis would bolster their place atop the NL West, but the contributions they’ve received from Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, and Jose De Leon should keep them in the running while Kershaw focuses on getting back to his usual Cy Young Award-winning self.

Cards’ Pujols hits 700th career home run, 4th to reach mark

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 700th career home run on Friday night, connecting for his second drive of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming the fourth player to reach the milestone in major league history.

The 42-year-old Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, then launched No. 700 in the fourth at Dodger Stadium.

With the drive in the final days of his last big league season, Pujols joined Barry Bonds (762 homers), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) in one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

It’s been a remarkable run for Pujols. This was his 14th home run since the start of August for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, and his 21st of the season.

Pujols’ historic homer was a three-run shot against Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. The ball landed in the first few rows of the left-field pavilion, the same location his two-run shot touched down the previous inning off left-hander Andrew Heaney.

Pujols received a prolonged standing ovation from the crowd – he finished out last season while playing for the Dodgers. He took a curtain call, raising his cap in acknowledgment.

The fans chanted “Pujols! Pujols!” They finally sat down after being on their feet in anticipation of seeing history.

Pujols snapped a tie with Alex Rodriguez for fourth on the list when he hit career homer No. 697 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11.

Reaching 700 homers seemed like a long shot for Pujols when he was batting .189 on July 4. But the three-time NL MVP started to find his stroke in August, swatting seven homers in one 10-game stretch that helped St. Louis pull away in the division race.

“I know that early in the year … I obviously wanted better results,” Pujols said after he homered in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 22. “But I felt like I was hitting the ball hard. Sometimes this game is going to take more away from you than the game (is) giving you back.

“So I think at the end of the day you have to be positive and just stay focused and trust your work. That’s something that I’ve done all the time.”

Pujols has enjoyed a resurgent season after returning to St. Louis in March for a $2.5 million, one-year contract. It’s his highest total since he hit 23 homers for the Angels in 2019.

He plans to retire when the season ends.

Pujols also began his career in St. Louis. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft and won the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award.

The Dominican Republic native hit at least .300 with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first 10 seasons. He helped the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.

He set a career high with 49 homers in 2006 – one of seven seasons with at least 40 homers. He led the majors with 47 homers in 2009 and topped the NL with 42 in 2010.

Pujols left St. Louis in free agency in December 2011, signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels. He was waived by the Angels in May 2021, and then joined the Dodgers and hit 12 homers and drove in 38 runs in 85 games.