(BaseballStL) — Matt Carpenter said it best Sunday night when talking about Clayton Kershaw.
“He’s got a lot of ways to put you away.”
Eight strikeouts in seven innings back up the Cardinal second baseman’s assessment, and from the moment the 26-year-old lefty was named the starter for the series finale, St. Louis hitters were aware what they were in for.
“We knew going into this game, their guy on the mound isn’t going to give us a lot,” Mike Matheny said. “We’re going to have to really dig in and figure out a way.”
The Cardinals did an impressive job with Kershaw, fighting the Dodger ace to a draw through his seven innings.
Even with three pitches hitting a batter Sunday, the Dodgers and Cardinals understand each other.
After Allen Craig doubled in Jhonny Peralta to tie the game in the second inning, Los Angeles reclaimed the lead with a pair of runs in the following frame.
Carlos Martinez, though he appeared far more prepared than in Milwaukee, found himself in trouble when he walked Kershaw to begin the third.
“Whenever you’re going to lead off with a walk, especially if it’s in that nine hole, typically bad things are going to happen and they did,” Matheny said.
After a one-out walk, Adrian Gonzalez lined out to Peter Bourjos in center. The Dodgers refused to go to the dugout empty handed and back-to-back singles put the Cardinals in a 3-1 hole.
“It looked like he just at that point tried to do a little more. It’s something he’s always going to be guilty of because he thinks more is better and sometimes it is, but sometimes it takes him out of a rhythm. Then he got out of whack and we needed to get him out of there.”
Martinez struck out Scott Van Slyke to end the inning but lasted only one more, exiting after 74 pitches.
Through an interpreter, the 22-year-old said he felt better about the start, but was clearly disappointed about the brevity of his outing.
The Cardinals clawed back in the sixth, picking up two runs from an unlikely source.
Carpenter fell behind 0-2 before coaxing a 10-pitch walk to bring up Bourjos as the tying run. On the sixth pitch of the speedy center fielder’s at bat, he caught a mistake curveball with the barrel and tied the game with his third homer of the year.
Bourjos had success in the books against the overpowering lefty with three hits in 2011, but years have passed and Kershaw is an entirely different beast in 2014.
“I don’t know if his slider was as sharp as it is now and he’s pounding all the righties in. Back then I think he was pitching guys a little bit more away,” Bourjos said. “He’s nasty. He doesn’t give you too much to hit and if he does you better hit it.”
He did, and his 406-foot shot brought the Cardinals even. In the eighth, he singled again to give St. Louis a chance to win the game, eventually making his way to third before being stranded. It was validation for the 27-year-old, who has fought for playing time in a season marred by inconsistency.
“It’s been tough. I feel like I’ve gotten some at bats and the at bats have been consistent at least,” he said. Bourjos has managed eight hits in 11 games in July, continuing to find success without regular action.
“I know where the barrel is at. [John Mabry] and [David Bell] have helped me out a lot. Trying to get the bat into the slot where I can go right to the ball and know where the barrel is at all times,” he said. “I feel really good up there. I don’t feel like I’m jumping, I feel like I know where the barrel is at and squaring some balls up.”
Sunday showed every facet of what makes Bourjos a tremendous talent, and no aspect of his performance was lost on Matheny.
“Obviously the home run stands out, but he had a good at bat late in the game. He gets on base, gets a nice jump to get to second and then on to third put a lot of pressure on their defense,” the manager said. “Don’t forget about that play he made coming in (on Gonzales’ ball in the third). He made that look easy, but their aren’t many center fielders in the league that make that play.”
Despite Bourjos' efforts, the Cardinals would fall in the ninth when an errant pitch extended the inning for the Dodgers, allowing them to plate the winning run.
Still, St. Louis holds a share of the division lead with the Brewers heading into a two-game set with Tampa Bay before heading to Chicago for three with the Cubs.