Clayton Kershaw breaks Dodgers' strikeout record in loss to Tigers

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Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, right, acknowledges the fans.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw acknowledges a standing ovation from fans after becoming the Dodgers' all-time strikeouts leader in the fourth inning of a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Dodger Stadium on Saturday. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Clayton Kershaw entered the season chasing history. He finally caught it in the fourth inning Saturday when he fanned Detroit’s Spencer Torkelson to break Don Sutton’s Dodgers record for career strikeouts.

Torkelson’s weak swing and miss, Kershaw’s fourth strikeout of the night, brought the Dodger Stadium crowd of 52,613 to its feet for an ovation as Kershaw circled the mound, then doffed his cap to the fans, seemingly anxious for the game to resume.

When it did, Kershaw kept the Tigers in check until he exited, then they rallied for four consecutive runs to snap a six-game losing streak and spoil the Dodgers’ night with a 5-1 win.

“Anytime you get to do something individual, record-wise, the people around you to help you celebrate are what matters the most,” said Kershaw whose family, cheering in the stands, was shown on the scoreboard celebrating with him. “And then to see the fans care about it as much as they did. That was ... all those things make it special.

“I didn’t know that fans would know, or honestly care that much. I tried to kind of brush it off and keep going, but they wouldn’t let me.”

The record came on a sharp 0-and-2 slider that dove down and in on the right-handed-hitting Torkelson, who reached for it and missed for the first out of the inning. That moved Kershaw past Sutton’s total of 2,696 strikeouts set in 1988, the final season of a 23-year career spent mostly with the Dodgers.

Kershaw struck out the side in the inning and finished with seven strikeouts in six innings, becoming the 26th pitcher in big-league history to reach 2,700 for a career. The left-hander then went home with a number of souvenir balls, each from one of Saturday’s record-tying or record-breaking strikeouts.

Two months ago, it was uncertain Kershaw would be pitching for the Dodgers, much less chasing history. The three-time Cy Young Award winner became an unrestricted free agent after last season and didn’t re-sign until early March, when he agreed to a one-year, $17-million contract.

“He’s one of the greatest Dodgers to ever put on a Dodger uniform,” manager Dave Roberts said. “So it’s sort of a no-brainer.”

The Dodgers (13-7) gave Kershaw some early support Saturday, with Mookie Betts lining a homer over the wall in dead center in the first. But the Tigers matched that in third when Kershaw — who retired the first eight Tigers, three on strikeouts to match Sutton’s record — saw Detroit tie the game on a two-out double, a walk and a run-scoring single from Javier Báez.

After giving up a single to start the fourth, Kershaw struck out three of the next four Tigers to pass Sutton and regain control. He then gave way to Evan Phillips in the seventh, an inning the right-hander opened by hitting the first batter and giving up a single to the second. Two outs later Báez doubled in the go-ahead run before a broken-bat single from Austin Meadows drove in two more.

An infield single and Tucker Barnhart’s RBI double in the eighth accounted for the final score.

“Not a great game,” Kershaw said. “I wish we would have won. But it was a great moment for me personally. And I’ll remember that for a while for sure.”

Sutton, a Hall of Famer who won 324 games, still holds Dodgers records for victories (233), innings pitched (3,8161/3) and shutouts (52), totals that Kershaw, in his 15th season with the team, has little chance of matching. But that has less to do with Kershaw’s brilliance than it does with the way the game has changed, with starters throwing fewer pitches and innings.

Sutton averaged more than 238 innings in 16 seasons with the Dodgers, a number Kershaw has never reached. And the Dodgers as a team haven’t matched Sutton’s shutout total since Kershaw entered the majors in 2008.

Strikeouts also have become more common. In Sutton’s first season in 1966, there were 18,805 strikeouts. By Kershaw’s rookie season that number nearly had doubled.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story, said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, who contributed nine strikeouts to Kershaw’s total while with the Atlanta Braves.

“When you get in the box, you realize how good he is,” Freeman said. “I’m glad I don’t have to face him anymore. Every pitch means something to him. That’s the key. He doesn’t throw any non-competitive pitches.”

Or many hittable ones.

Short hops

Kirk Gibson joined Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela, Maury Wills and the late Don Newcombe as the fifth member of the Legends of Dodger Baseball in a pregame ceremony. ... The Dodgers recalled infielder/outfielder Zach McKinstry and reliever Carson Fulmer and optioned right-hander Andre Jackson to triple A Oklahoma City before Saturday’s game. Jackson, who was called up a week ago but did not pitch for the Dodgers, threw 60 pitches in a four-inning simulated game Saturday afternoon, facing infielders Edwin Ríos and Hanser Alberto. ... The team also placed right-handed pitcher Mitch White on the COVID-19 injured list. ... Roberts said pitchers Andrew Heaney and Blake Treinen have not resumed throwing since being placed on the IL last month and there is no timetable for either player’s return. Heaney was placed on the IL with left shoulder discomfort on April 20. Treinen was sidelined two days later with pain in his right shoulder. While sidelined, Treinen went home to Walla Walla, Wash., where his wife, Kati, a junior college basketball coach, gave birth to a daughter.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.