Ahead of the first matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner in nearly five years, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts predicted the matchup would “bring out the best” in the two decorated lefties.
He highlighted the friendship and mutual respect throughout the journey. He pointed to their competitive natures and equally intense inner drives.
“They always want to outdo each other,” Roberts said. “You’ll see that come out tonight.”
The only problem?
Bumgarner no longer resides in Kershaw’s future Hall of Fame.
And with the Dodgers beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 10-1 on Saturday, the gap between the two widened.
Kershaw, starting his 16th major league season at age 35, dominated in a six-inning, one-run masterclass.
He struck out nine, many via a vintage curveball that wowed the Dodger Stadium crowd of 48,886.
He faced little stress, allowing just four hits and no walks en route to his 198th career victory, one shy of another milestone.
Trayce Thompson hits a three-run home run in the fifth inning of the Dodgers’ 10-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
(Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
Bumgarner, meanwhile, continued to sink into a late-career slide.
Entering his fourth season in Arizona, where the 33-year-old posted a 4.98 earned run average over his first three years, the former San Francisco Giants great opened the 2023 campaign with a disastrous five-run first inning.
Mookie Betts led off with a double that might have been a home run if not for fan interference.
Chris Taylor lifted a sacrifice bunt to open the scoring. Trayce Thompson then capped off the big inning with a two-run grand slam — the first of his three home runs in his eight-RBI season debut.
Bumgarner settled down from there, showing flashes of his old self to get through the fourth inning unscathed.
But once he played Kershaw for the title of baseball’s best lefty – and dominated six of 11 head-to-head games against Kershaw over the years – the contrast between the two was impossible to hide.
To Roberts, it all said less about Bumgarner, whose decline is hardly unusual for a high-mileage pitcher, and more about Kershaw, whose recent injury history remains his only discernible drawback since his father’s days.
“It surprises me in a way, but it’s not surprising given who he is,” Roberts said. “The will to compete, (to be) is the testimony of not taking a day for granted. It’s something that will be part of his legacy going forward.”
It’s also helped him transition into a new phase of his career, finding ways to maintain his trademark excellence even as he’s moved past his prime as a three-time Cy Young Award winner.