NEW YORK -- Clayton Kershaw took on all challengers Wednesday and showed that he is ready to dominate once again.
It was exactly what the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted to see as they envision a run to a fourth consecutive National League West title, and then dare to consider life ahead in the postseason.
The team's ace battled his recent inactivity, the New York Yankees and the elements to fire five scoreless innings of one-hit baseball in his second start since coming off the disabled list. He started the Dodgers toward a 2-0 victory and a series triumph over the Yankees.
He transformed from a pitcher who had limited feel into his old Cy Young Award-winning form in a matter of five days; and the massive transition from a rocky start at Miami to a dominating performance at Yankee Stadium was unfathomable. But then again, this is Kershaw.
"It was more about getting back into that playing mode, that competition, and what we need to do to win," catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "So the first game was more of a kick-start, and this game was, 'All right, we're here, let's get it done.'"
Did he ever get it done. Yankees manager Joe Girardi wrapped it up succinctly: "Kershaw was Kershaw."
In his first start at Yankee Stadium, the left-hander showed that baseball's main stage suited him just fine. He fired a perfect four innings around a 12-minute rain delay, and then gave up a lone hit in a 20-pitch fifth inning that followed a 48-minute rain delay. On the field he threw 64 pitches.
He added 16 more pitches in the underground batting cage area of Yankee Stadium to build himself up to the 80-pitch range. Afterward, Kershaw's competitive spirit still showed when he was asked if the outing was as good as could be expected given the circumstances he faced.
"I gave up a hit so there's a bad pitch there," he said. "But for the most part ... it's tough to be satisfied when you only pitch five innings. I guess really six. But with the rain delay and everything considered, it was OK. It was good."
As far as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was concerned, it was great. Not so great were the circumstances, especially with two rain delays. Roberts almost pulled the plug after the second delay, but Kershaw was able to get one more inning and 20 pitches under his belt.
"We were in constant contact with the grounds crew, constant contact with the training staff and obviously Clayton," Roberts said. "We felt comfortable with that delay to go back out there for the fifth. I think that just individually for Clayton it couldn't have worked out any better under the circumstances. Fastball was good, velocity was really plus. He got the strikeout when he needed to, but to see Clayton go out there and do what he does, it was a huge lift for us."
The Yankees did not get their first baserunner until their first batter up after the second rain delay when third baseman Justin Turner couldn't handle a ground ball from Starlin Castro for an error. Chase Headley followed with the Yankees' first hit on a single to left field.
But Kershaw got nasty again, getting the first out on a sacrifice bunt that put both runners in scoring position. He then struck out both Rob Refsnyder and Austin Romine to end the threat, adding a roar of accomplishment when the inning was done.
"It was just an important at-bat," Kershaw said when asked about his public display of determination. "It's 0-0 still, trying to keep our team in the game. I was throwing out of the stretch there for the first time all game. I'd been leaving a lot of stuff up early and was finally able to throw a good slider there. It was good. It was fun."
Kershaw's 64-pitch day was actually two pitches fewer than he threw at Miami on Friday. But in a move more in line with spring training or a rehab start, Kershaw had his extra work in the privacy of the team's underground hitting area.
"Obviously it's great to have him out there," said Turner, who had two hits, including a go-ahead RBI double in the ninth inning that broke a scoreless deadlock. "I think the more positive thing for me is the 48-minute delay and he goes back out there and it didn't look like he missed a beat. So obviously, that's a real positive sign for us and we're happy to see it. It's good to get him lengthening out a bit."
Kershaw's next start will be even more prime time than Wednesday evening's outing in the Bronx, as he will face the San Francisco Giants in the opener of a three-game home series. He is expected to pitch opposite Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
The Dodgers' victory Wednesday gave them a five-game lead over the Giants in the National League West and reduced their magic number to 13 to clinch the division.
The Giants will have to think they are getting the Kershaw of old, as Kershaw himself has not been looking at his past two starts as if he is in rehab mode.
"It was pretty much the same [intensity] both times," Kershaw said. "I was obviously thankful to be back the first time, but I wasn't thinking about that. Once you start pitching, you're pitching. You're trying to get guys out, and if you're not doing that effectively you need to look at it. So I did that. Just a little bit was better overall today. Maybe it was back on a normal routine, a normal four days almost -- or whatever my normal is now. Maybe that helped a little bit, I don't know."
It most definitely helped the psyche of the Dodgers, who had struggled at times on this trip and could have been looking at consecutive series losses if the Yankees could have taken advantage of the Dodgers' bullpen. But after getting shut out Tuesday, the Dodgers returned the favor Wednesday.
"I just felt that I knew we were going to find a way to get one across," said Roberts, whose team had been scoreless for 17 innings in the Bronx before pushing across two in the ninth Wednesday. "I liked the way we were pitching. The way the pen threw today, and then what Luis Avilan gave us was huge. We picked our spots, tried to match guys up and there were some big outs that the pen guys got us."