LOS ANGELES — After striking out Spencer Torkelson in the fourth inning of the Dodgers’ 5-1 loss to the Tigers on Saturday night, Clayton Kershaw walked around the mound for a few seconds before tipping his cap to the sold-out crowd at Dodger Stadium.
Kershaw’s teammates were all clapping around him. Austin Barnes made sure to secure the baseball. In typical Kershaw fashion, the left-hander was ready to get back on the mound. But the fans roared again. Kershaw stepped off and acknowledged them once again. Every scoreboard or ticker in the stadium illustrated exactly why the future Hall of Famer was getting such a long and loud ovation.
With his 2,697th career strikeout, Kershaw passed Hall of Famer Don Sutton for the most career strikeouts in Dodgers franchise history. Sutton had held the record since the 1979 season when he passed Don Drysdale, who is now third on the franchise’s all-time strikeout list. Kershaw tallied seven strikeouts in six innings Saturday, raising his career total to 2,700 and becoming the 26th in AL/NL history to reach that number.
“I didn’t expect it,” Kershaw said of the loud ovation. “I understand that the Dodgers are a historical franchise and have been around for a long time, so the guys that are on that list that I was fortunate enough to pass, that’s a big deal. It was special for me, it really was. … I tried to brush it off and keep pitching but [the fans] wouldn’t let me. It definitely meant a lot, for sure. It meant a lot.”
Kershaw came into Saturday’s game needing just four strikeouts to pass Sutton. He immediately took care of the first, striking out Robbie Grossman to start the game. In the third, Kershaw tied Sutton after striking out Dustin Garneau on his signature curveball. The crowd gave him the first of many standing ovations of the night.
“He’s so remarkable,” said Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. “You don’t want your guys to punch, but to get that many strikeouts in this uniform, in this ballpark, he’s one of the best that’s ever done it. He didn’t really want to stop and celebrate, but I love that the fans gave him the recognition he deserved. We clapped in our dugout. We saw history tonight.”
Though Kershaw had a chance to set the record in his last start at Petco Park, it seemed fitting that the left-hander accomplished the feat at Dodger Stadium, the only ballpark he has called home during his illustrious career. The milestone K was Kershaw’s 1,465th career strikeout at Dodger Stadium.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, when asked if accomplishments like this mean more at home, said, “They do. They’re special everywhere, but I think that for a fanbase that’s followed him for his entire career, to ultimately reach this milestone at home, to get that ovation and that moment, to share that with the home fans certainly makes it sweeter.”
Kershaw’s journey to Sutton’s record began on May 25, 2008, when he struck out the first batter he faced in Skip Schumaker. He went on to strike out seven Cardinals hitters in his Major League debut.
Since then, Kershaw has recorded 66 10-strikeout games, including a 13-strikeout performance against the Twins earlier this year. He has also won three Cy Young Awards and one National League MVP. He’s one of the best pitchers in Major League history, and one of the best to ever wear a Dodgers uniform.
“Anytime you get to do something individual, record-wise, the people around you to help you celebrate are what matter the most,” Kershaw said. “To have my teammates care about that, to have my family here and care about that and to see the fans care about it as much as they did, all of those things make it special.”
This offseason, Kershaw was a free agent and wasn’t sure what his future would hold. He had some thoughts about joining the Rangers in order to stay close to his Dallas-area home. Ultimately, Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, decided to come back to the Dodgers with a second World Series title in mind.
However, he didn’t want his return to Los Angeles to be based on sentimental value or be seen as a reward for his past. Kershaw felt healthy coming into Spring Training and wanted to return and produce like the ace he’s been for more than a decade. Everyone else in attendance watched one of the best pitchers of all time deliver yet another memorable performance on the mound.
“I know what it means to me, that I’ve been fortunate enough to be here for this long. It means a lot. I grew up here, started a family here. I’ve been through a lot of ups and a lot of downs here,” Kershaw said. “I didn’t expect what happened tonight, but it definitely hit me. It meant a lot, for sure.”