For an hour or so, Angels neophyte Patrick Sandoval and Dodgers longtime ace Clayton Kershaw were locked in a duel of seeing how many worms they could kill in the Angels Stadium infield.
But the comparisons stopped there.
In the end, there was too much of vintage Kershaw and slump-busting NL MVP Cody Bellinger for the Angels, who fell 7-4 to the Dodgers in the opener of a six-game home-and-away Freeway Series.
Kershaw faced the minimum through four innings, including 12 groundball outs — eight of them aimed at second baseman Enrique Hernandez — and had a one-hitter through seven, striking out six and walking two.
Bellinger, who limped into the game with a .165 average, homered twice and drove in four runs as the Dodgers moved into sole possession of first place in the NL West.
The only damage the Angels inflicted on Kershaw came in the fifth, when third baseman Anthony Rendon led off with a solo home run. It was the fifth homer for Rendon and his fourth in the last four games.
Kershaw’s efficiency was such that he needed just 91 pitches to get through the seven innings.
Said Angels manager Joe Maddon: “His velocity was up from what I’ve seen in the recent past, and he was really uncanny with the slider today. … He was very good, on top of his game.”
“Everybody did a great job with me, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t work,” Kershaw said. “I can’t pinpoint one specific thing, but all the things that we’ve tried, there’s a lot of things that have stuck. It is gratifying, for sure.”
Sandoval, age 23, using a similar repertoire as Kershaw and induced 12 groundouts himself with his fastball/slider/changeup mix.
One ground ball cost Sandoval, though, when Rendon booted what would have been a double-play ball by Mookie Betts. Justin Turner then drove in a run and AJ Pollock scored another runner on a force out as the Dodgers took a 2-0 lead.
It was just the 12th start of Sandoval’s major league career, but he reached the seventh inning for the first time, getting through the first five innings only 59 pitches. The groundouts were part of the game plan.
“That just shows you that the ball was moving late,” Maddon said. “It was maybe getting on the hitter a little bit quicker than they thought, and the breaking ball was so good they had to honor it … That’s what I saw, I like what I saw a lot.”
Sandoval’s big mistake, however, was hanging a slider to Bellinger in the sixth. Bellinger wrapped it into the seats in short right field for a 4-1 lead.
“I was real, real confident with my pitches tonight,” Sandoval said. “I felt like I could throw them in any count, just try to build off that.”
In the eighth, Bellinger’s second two-run homer — to straightaway center field off Angel reliever Ryan Buchter, stretched the Dodger lead to 7-1.
The Angels made the score tighter in the late innings as they put an end to the scoreless innings streak of 20 2/3 innings that the Dodger bullpen had strung together.
Second baseman Tommy La Stella drove in a pair of runs in the eight and Brian Goodwin another in the the ninth before Dodger closer Kenley Jansen came in to finish things off for his fifth save.