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Royals no match for Dodgers’ Kershaw

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, June 24, 2014, at 10:34 p.m.

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— The opportunities were scant and scattered for the Royals in Tuesday night’s 2-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. The best appeared at 9:27 p.m., with one out in the seventh inning, when the club completed a somewhat remarkable feat: They accumulated two hits off Kershaw in the same inning.

All night long, Kershaw had been both surgical and dismissive. He cast aside his opponents with ease and defused crises as they arose. When Omar Infante singled to center and Danny Valencia followed with a single to left, the crowd at Kauffman Stadium grabbed on to the moment, roaring as Justin Maxwell walked to the plate.

Kershaw would have to best the Royals’ No. 8 and No. 9 hitters to escape. He completed the task with ease. Maxwell grounded into a fielder’s choice. Alcides Escobar created a tad more drama — he knocked a fastball back between Kershaw’s legs, but second baseman Miguel Rojas threw him out.

Kershaw leaped in the air at the result. Never before had he faced the Royals, and on Tuesday, he devastated them. Kershaw followed his last start, one of the greatest pitching performances in baseball history, with more straightforward brilliance. He bullied his hosts for eight scoreless innings, not even yielding an extra-base hit.

The effort from Danny Duffy (4-7, 2.69 ERA) lacked aesthetic pleasure. He toiled through six innings, allowing only one run. He recovered from a first-inning stumble and survived four hits and four walks to keep his teammates close.

The Royals had beaten a former Cy Young winner in three of their last four victories. They drubbed Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in Detroit. A five-run lashing of Zack Greinke on Monday snapped a four-game losing streak. In Kershaw, they ran into a force at the height of his power.

Kershaw, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, could not duplicate his most recent effort. Last Wednesday, facing the Rockies at Dodger Stadium, he struck out 15 in a no-hitter.

“He’s a tremendous competitor,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s got tremendous makeup. He’s got three devastating pitches.”

A single by Eric Hosmer in the first inning ensured that Kershaw would not match Johnny Vander Meer’s feat of back-to-back no-hitters from 1938. But Kershaw still loomed as a momentous challenge.

After taking over as hitting coach, Dale Sveum instructed the team’s video coordinator to alter the packages on opposing starters. Sveum wanted the clips to include only instances in which hitters collected extra-base hits off that night’s opponent. For Kershaw, the necessary footage dipped back in 2013: He had given up an extra-base hit to a left-handed batter just once this season.

His counterpart had yet to allow one. Duffy has emerged as a vital component of the team’s rotation this season, and displayed signs of improved efficiency earlier this month. The Dodgers subjected him to a first-inning gantlet.

The test began with utility infielder Justin Turner. Duffy tried five times to vanquish Turner with full-count fastballs. Turner fouled off the first four, then drove the last into the right-center gap. A dive from Lorenzo Cain came up empty, and Turner had a triple.

Duffy held Turner at third by getting Matt Kemp to ground out. When catcher Salvador Perez signaled an intentional walk for Yasiel Puig, Duffy shook him off. A mound conference ensued, and Yost allowed Duffy to face Puig, who eventually reached on an infield single. Adrian Gonzalez finally drove in Turner with a grounder up the middle.

Duffy required 29 pitches to complete the inning. Kershaw utilized the same amount to finish three innings. He faced the minimum. After Hosmer’s single, Billy Butler bounced into a double play. The Royals forced Kershaw to throw 26 pitches in the fourth, vexing him with Hosmer’s second single and a walk by Gordon, but still they stayed scoreless.

Each time the Royals sensed an opening, Kershaw slammed the door. With two on in the fourth, he jammed Perez with an inside fastball. Perez grounded out. After Valencia singled in the fifth, Kershaw struck out the next two batters. When Butler cracked a two-out hit in the sixth, Kershaw dusted Alex Gordon with a 3-2 slider.

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