LOS ANGELES (AP)Clayton Kershaw wrapped up the eighth inning and left the mound to a standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd after a performance measuring up to the best in his remarkable career.
Those wild cheers quickly turned to boos when umpires inspected him for foreign substances, but Kershaw only smiled and then waved his cap as the roar returned.
”To have a full crowd of Dodgers fans again, I missed it, and it’s awesome,” Kershaw said. ”I don’t ever want to go back.”
Kershaw and the Dodgers are surging forward again after a week that began with a few steps backward for the defending World Series champions.
Kershaw racked up a season-high 13 strikeouts over eight dominant innings, and Zach McKinstry hit a grand slam in the second inning of Los Angeles’ 7-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night.
Cody Bellinger homered in his second straight game and drove in three runs in the Dodgers’ third consecutive win over Chicago after four Cubs pitchers combined for a no-hitter in the series opener Thursday.
Kershaw (9-7) yielded four hits while flummoxing the Cubs with his slider, recording his highest strikeout total in a regular-season game since July 2017 and getting a season-high 26 swings and misses.
”It’s hard to imagine him being any better,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
Beyond Kershaw’s brilliance, the Dodgers appear to be back on form after they followed up three straight losses in San Diego with their lifeless effort in Chicago’s no-hitter.
”Coming back here and being no-hit, I think that maybe was a wakeup call in some regards,” Kershaw said. ”It was kind of a collective effort, the reasons why we were struggling there. We’ve got back on the highs the last three games, and it was good to see.”
Javier Baez hit his 18th homer for the Cubs, who haven’t won a series at Dodger Stadium since 2014. Anthony Rizzo also left in the fourth with lower back tightness.
Kershaw lasted just one inning at Wrigley Field last month in the shortest start of his 14-year career, but the 33-year-old left-hander was spectacular in the rematch.
He didn’t get into a three-ball count until the sixth, and he issued his only walk in the seventh. He matched his highest strikeout total since he struck out 13 Brewers to wrap up last fall’s NL wild-card series on the way to his first World Series title.
”He’s one of the greats,” McKinstry said. ”He’s a great baseball player, great competitor. He’s a great leader in this clubhouse, and everybody just kind of swarms around him.”
McKinstry’s first career grand slam was the Dodgers’ first hit after they loaded the bases with two walks and a hit batsman against Adbert Alzolay (4-7).
Three batters and one inning-prolonging error later, Bellinger followed up Saturday’s walk-off homer with a two-run shot off Alzolay, who yielded six runs on five hits over three innings in his third consecutive defeat.
”Just wasn’t sharp,” Cubs manager David Ross said of Alzolay. ”Looked like his command was off. Just his whole rhythm in general, syncing up his mechanics, led to sporadic command. He was battling himself out there.”
Sergio Alcantara got into the Cubs’ first three-ball count against Kershaw in the sixth, but Kershaw struck him out anyway to set a new season high.
Mookie Betts tripled and scored on Bellinger’s sacrifice fly in the sixth.
EYES WIDE SHUT
McKinstry’s slam was the second homer in three days from the rookie whose promising start was derailed by a five-week injury absence consuming most of May. He hadn’t hit particularly well since returning – until the Dodgers’ coaching staff discovered he was swinging with his eyes closed.
”I was closing my eyes on contact, which is wild to think,” McKinstry said. ”I saw that in San Diego, started working on it, making sure my eyes are open. It helped. Started seeing ball a little longer out of the pitcher’s hand.”
Cubs: C P.J. Higgins will have his right forearm flexor tendon repaired when he has surgery. He is still out for the season. Higgins hurt himself making a throw June 9.
Dodgers: SS Corey Seager’s broken hand is taking a bit longer than expected to heal, Roberts said. The World Series MVP is no longer swinging the bat as frequently as before, and there’s still no firm timetable for his return.
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks (10-4, 3.84 ERA) pitches Monday in Milwaukee to open a three-game set.
Dodgers: The NL’s top two teams meet again when Trevor Bauer (7-5, 2.57 ERA) takes the mound Monday to open a two-game home series against the San Francisco Giants.
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