A career day from a 36-year-old utility infielder and a dominating performance from the reigning NL Cy Young Award Winner were all the Los Angeles Dodgers needed to dispose of the Seattle Mariners 8-3 Saturday night at Safeco Field.
Second baseman Jerry Hairston drove in five runs, three of which came on a home run in the top of the first that barely cleared the hand-operated scoreboard in left field. Staked with an early cushion, Clayton Kershaw struck out seven of the first 11 Mariners he faced on his way to seven innings of three-run, four-hit ball. He finished with 12 strikeouts.
"He's got good stuff," Justin Smoak said after one hit in three tries against the hard-throwing southpaw. "He had a good slider going today and was fine with his fastball. We faced a lot of tough guys but he is definitely a great pitcher."
Manager Eric Wedge echoed Smoak's feelings.
"He was able to go get another gear when he needed to," he said. "I think you saw that early on when we had (runners) on second and third and he dialed it up a little bit. But I felt like our guys competed well. He made some real good pitches at the right time."
Kershaw escaped trouble in the bottom of the first after a double from Jesus Montero put runners on second and third with just one out. He responded with back-to-back strikeouts against Smoak and Kyle Seager to end the inning.
His only hiccup came in the fourth when Miguel Olivo made him pay for yielding a bloop single to Smoak and walk to Seager. On a 1-1 pitch, the veteran backstop deposited a three-run blast into the "Pen" fan section in left centerfield to cut the deficit to 5-3 after the Dodgers tacked on two runs in the top of the inning on an RBI double from Hairston and an RBI single back up the middle from James Loney.
Mariners starter Jason Vargas kept matters close for three more innings, but he was done after six and 100 pitches. The loss dropped him to 7-5 as his ERA jumped to 3.90.
"Hairston killed us today for the most part. I was trying to go in there and he made a good swing," Vargas said when asked about the home run. "I was pleased with being able to battle back except for that first and third (innings). I felt like we executed and kept us in the game but when you give Kershaw a lead like that in the third inning, you've got your work cut out for you."
Vargas gave up five runs on nine hits while striking out just three. Saturday was the first time since Aug. 28, 2011 he allowed more than three runs at Safeco Field.
Entering the eighth still up 5-3, Hairston all but erased any chance of a Mariners comeback when he went the other way, lining a double into the gap to score Juan Rivera from first base. The Dodgers tacked on two more runs in the ninth to seal Seattle's fate when they managed just four hits.
Mired in a season-long slump, shortstop Brendan Ryan contributed to the team's offensive struggles. He finished the game 0-3 with two strikeouts to drop his average back down to .160.
"It was just another frustrating day, really," he said.