Kershaw takes perfect game into 8th, Dodgers rout Angels 9-1

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Clayton Kershaw‘s pitches all sizzled from the start, and the Los Angeles Angels swung early, often and usually ineptly. Behind their longtime ace, the Los Angeles Dodgers made one stunning defensive play after another.

While he retired the first 21 Angels in order, even Kershaw allowed himself to admit everything was pointing toward his first perfect game.

“I really felt like it might happen,” Kershaw said with a smile.

Luis Rengifo‘s double leading off the eighth ended the dream, yet it scarcely dampened another spectacular night for the Dodgers’ beloved left-hander.

Kershaw finished his latest gem in a career full of them with eight scoreless innings of one-hit ball in the Dodgers’ 9-1 victory over the Angels on Friday night.

After mowing down the Angels for seven innings, Kershaw (7-2) fell six outs short of his first perfect game and the second in Dodgers franchise history when Rengifo lined a clean hit to left on a well-thrown low slider.

“I really wanted to do it,” Kershaw said. “I think it would have been really fun for everybody involved.”

But Kershaw shrugged it off, retired three more Angels and got the last of several standing ovations from a sellout crowd of 44,648 at the Big A, which contained a huge contingent of blue-clad fans roaring for Kershaw’s every out.

“Honestly, I probably should have given up four or five hits,” Kershaw said. “Defense played unbelievable tonight, and they lined out right to some guys. It was a fun night.”

The 34-year-old Kershaw was selected to his ninth All-Star team earlier this month, and he is a strong sentimental candidate to start the Midsummer Classic at Dodger Stadium.

If anybody still doubted his All-Star worthiness after just 12 starts this season, Kershaw again showed he’s a master craftsman on the mound who can dominate major league hitters. The three-time Cy Young Award winner struck out six and induced 11 swings and misses while throwing just 89 pitches – none faster than 92.5 mph.

“Obviously, he’s still one of the best in the game,” catcher Austin Barnes said. “He puts the ball where he wants it. They were swinging early, which helps him. After the third or four incredible (defensive) play, I thought it was going to happen. But it’s tough. It doesn’t happen very often.”

Kershaw threw the only no-hitter of his career back in 2014 against Colorado. Sandy Koufax threw the only perfect game in Dodgers history on Sept. 9, 1965. There have been just 23 perfect games in major league history.

Justin Turner had three hits, drove in four runs and also made the first of three spectacular defensive plays by the Dodgers’ infield to keep Kershaw’s perfect game intact. Will Smith went 4 for 4 with a walk, while Hanser Alberto had a two-run triple in the fifth inning as the Dodgers rolled toward the All-Star break with 13 wins in 15 games.

Turner, Alberto and Trea Turner all made outstanding plays on grounders in a four-inning span to maintain Kershaw’s perfection.

“That was a vintage Kershaw performance,” Justin Turner said. “There’s a point in the middle of the game where you know what’s going on, and we had a really good feeling about it. That was dominance right there.”

Brandon Marsh homered off Reyes Moronta in the ninth for the Angels, who opened the second half of the annual Freeway Series with their 11th loss in 13 games overall. Mike Trout sat out for a third consecutive game after having upper back spasms Tuesday, and the rest of the Angels couldn’t break through.

“He’s a future Hall of Famer, and he had his best stuff working tonight against a team that hasn’t been swinging the bats very well,” Angels manager Phil Nevin said of Kershaw. “You could tell from the beginning he had a few pitches that were really working for him.”

Patrick Sandoval (3-5) yielded seven hits and two earned runs while failing to get through the fifth inning for the Angels.

TWICE THIS YEAR

Kershaw already flirted with history in his first start of the season, throwing seven perfect innings with 13 strikeouts at Minnesota on April 13. Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts pulled Kershaw from that start with the lefty’s reluctant approval.

Kershaw is the only pitcher in the post-1961 expansion era to be perfect through seven innings more than once in a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

WITHOUT TROUT

Trout intends to play Saturday and in the All-Star Game on Tuesday. He said he took this game off “to make sure it has completely gone away.”

“Still felt a little not right,” Trout added. “I feel like treatment went good today, and (I’ll) be in tomorrow. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow, but my intention is to play tomorrow.”

FREEMAN’S HOME

Freddie Freeman played his first game at Angel Stadium since his rookie season. The longtime Atlanta slugger is an Orange County native who grew up 10 minutes from the Big A and attended countless games here as a kid.

Freeman continued his phenomenal stretch at the plate since being left off the NL All-Star team when he drove in the Dodgers’ first run with an RBI single. The slugger reached base for the jaw-dropping 18th time in his last 21 plate appearances with the first-inning hit.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Dodgers: LHP Andrew Heaney is likely to make a rehab start Saturday. He has pitched for LA once since April due to shoulder woes.

Angels: RHP Jimmy Herget will start a rehab assignment after the All-Star break. He’s been out since June 22 with a right shoulder impingement.

UP NEXT

Julio Urias (7-6, 3.01 ERA) attempts to beat the Angels for the first time in his third career attempt. Jose Suarez (1-3, 4.79) faces the Dodgers for the first time in his major league career.

Braves sweep Mets, take 2-game lead in East with 3 remaining

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ATLANTA — Matt Olson knew the Atlanta Braves were too talented to stay in a season-long slump.

That’s why no one panicked when the New York Mets’ division lead swelled to double digits in May. Now the Braves are on the cusp of another NL East title.

“It’s a clubhouse full of guys who want to win,” Olson said. “That’s all it’s been since the moment I walked in. That’s No. 1 on the program.”

Dansby Swanson and Olson homered for the third straight game, Travis d'Arnaud hit a go-ahead two-run single in the third inning, and Braves beat New York 5-3 on Sunday night, completing a three-game sweep of their NL East rival and taking a two-game lead in the division with three games to play.

The defending World Series champion Braves have been chasing the Mets the entire season. In the final series of the season, any combination of one Atlanta win or one Mets loss would give the Braves their fifth straight division title.

New York plays its final three games of the season against worst-in-the-majors Washington. Atlanta closes out the regular season with a three-game set in Miami. Should the season end Wednesday in a tie, Atlanta would win the division after claiming the season series 10-9 with Sunday’s victory.

“We’ve felt this confidence since the beginning of the year,” d’Arnaud said. “It just didn’t go our way early in the year, but pulling on the same rope, having each others’ backs, not trying to do too much. We’re just trying to play the game of baseball and have fun with it.”

The Braves won five of the last six games in the series, outscoring the Mets 42-19 over that stretch. New York had a 10 1/2-game lead on June 1 but now is the lower in the standings than at any point this season.

It was a lost weekend for New York, which came to Atlanta hoping to clinch its first division title since 2015. Instead, aces Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer lost Friday and Saturday before Chris Bassitt lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Sunday.

“We still have three games left in the regular season, we’re still going to the postseason, that doesn’t change, but there’s a lot of learning points that we can take from this series moving forward,” Mets slugger Pete Alonso said. “I thought we played well, but the Braves played better. They played excellent baseball this entire weekend.”

Swanson took Bassitt deep to right-center in the first with his 25th homer, and Atlanta took charge with a three-run third. Bassitt (15-9) issued a bases-loaded walk to Olson before d’Arnaud delivered a single up the middle to score Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley for a 4-3 lead. That chased Bassitt, who was charged with four runs, three hits and three walks.

Olson connected for his 33rd homer to make it 5-3 leading off the sixth, his 410-foot shot landing in the seats in right-center. Olson, in his first year with Atlanta, surpassed 100 RBIs for the second straight season.

“Everyone knew we were underperforming when we were flirting around that .500 range,” Olson said. “It was one of those things where it was trusting the talent we have and the guys in the clubhouse. Everybody was solid, head down, do your work, it’ll turn around and you wind up winning.”

Charlie Morton stranded runners on first and second in the first, but he gave up Daniel Vogelbach‘s 18th homer that tied it at 1 in the second. The righty struck out Francisco Lindor with runners on first and second to end the threat.

Jeff McNeil went deep off Morton in the third and Vogelbach followed with an RBI single to put the Mets up 3-1. Morton entered the game having allowed 28 homers, sixth-most in the NL.

Morton scuffled throughout his start, giving up three runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the 38-year-old made his first start since signing a $20 million, one-year contract to remain with Atlanta next season.

Dylan Lee (5-1) relieved Morton and pitched 1 1/3 innings, leaving after a walk to Brandon Nimmo with two outs in the sixth. Collin McHugh entered and struck out Francisco Lindor.

Raisel Iglesias faced four batters in the seventh, A.J. Minter faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen converted his third save of the series with a clean ninth.

Jansen leads the NL with 40 saves in 47 chances.

The Braves’ bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA last month, pitched 8 2/3 scoreless innings the last two nights.

BIG NUMBERS

Atlanta leads the NL with 241 homers. And the Braves have their first 100-victory season since 2003.

TWO, DARN HOT

McNeil went 3 for 5 and has multiple hits in five straight games. His average is .326, one point behind the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman for the NL batting title. In 23 career games at Truist Park, McNeil is hitting .395 with 12 runs, nine doubles, two homers, seven RBIs and four walks. … Jansen tied Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley for eighth place on the career list with 389. He’s also is the 10th closer to have four different seasons with at least 40 saves.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. … Braves 2B Ozzie Albies (broken right pinky finger) is still wearing a cast. … Braves RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique.

ATTENDANCE

The Braves drew 42,713 in their regular season finale, the club’s 42nd sellout of the season. Overall. that’s 3,129,931 for the season – and the most tickets sold since 2000. In 2019, the team’s last full season before the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta drew 2,655,100.

UP NEXT

Mets: RHP Carlos Carrasco (15-7, 3.95 ERA) will face Nationals RHP Cory Abbott (0-4, 5.11).

Braves: RHP Bryce Elder (2-3, 2.76 ERA) will face Marlins LHP Jesus Luzardo (3-7, 3.53).