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Kuhl beats Kershaw in major league debut

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie Chad Kuhl and the Pittsburgh Pirates spoiled the Sunday night ESPN Clayton Kershaw lovefest, as the Pirates beat the Dodgers 4-3. Making his major league debut with his family in from Delaware to cheer him on, Kuhl gave up three runs on four hits in five innings. He left the game with a one-run lead that the Pirates bullpen of Juan Nicasio, A.J. Schugel, and Mark Melancon preserved with 12 consecutive outs in the final four innings.

After retiring the first two batters he faced, Kuhl showed signs of nerves in the top of the first, walking two around a single by Howie Kendrick. But then he retired Yasiel Puig on a hard grounder to Jung Ho Kang at third to end the inning.

Kershaw, meanwhile, working on an extra day's rest, was less effective than usual. Jordy Mercer led off the bottom of the first with an opposite field single and extended his hitting streak to 11 games before taking a knee to the head from second baseman Chase Utley on David Freese's fielder's-choice grounder. Mercer left the game thereafter with "head and right ear discomfort," with starting right fielder Sean Rodriguez moving to short and Adam Frazier coming in to play right field. The Pirates did not score in the first, but they made Kershaw work. His wild pitch moved Freese to second and he survived hard hit balls by Andrew McCutchen and Kang.

After Kuhl settled down and breezed through an easy inning, recording his first two major league strikeouts on Yasmani Grandal and Kershaw, the Pirates scored all four of their runs in the bottom of the second. With one out, Josh Harrison singled. Chris Stewart, who inexplicably entered the game 7-for-14 lifetime vs. Kershaw, continued to defy reason by registering another hit. Kershaw then walked Rodriguez, only the eighth walk by Kershaw this season, to load the bases with one out, setting up what may have been the at-bat of the game.

Kuhl, hitless this season in Indianapolis, battled Kershaw through eight pitches, fouling off five as he worked to elevate high fastballs before eventually striking out. He returned to the dugout to a standing ovation. Frazier followed with a nice opposite-field single over short that brought home Harrison with the first run, then Freese cleared the bases with a first-pitch three-run double into the right-center-field gap on a Kershaw fastball over the plate. McCutchen's fly out ended a 30-pitch inning. This was only the second start all year in which Kershaw allowed more than three runs and the first in which he allowed more than one run in the first two innings.

The two presently hot Dodgers hitters, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, got two runs back in the third. With one out, Seager doubled over McCutchen's head in center and then Turner homered on a good 1-2 pitch from Kuhl, his eighth homer in June. In the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates missed a chance to extend their lead. With one out, Rodriguez singled and moved to second on a bunt by Kuhl. Frazier followed with his second single off Kershaw, but Rodriguez was thrown out at home on a great throw by center fielder Joc Pederson and a good tag by Grandal.

The Dodgers got their third and final run in the fifth. With one out, Seager walked on five pitches and scored when Frazier misplayed Turner's long fly double off the top of the right field wall. Turner moved to third with two outs on Kendrick's ground out, and when a Kuhl pitch eluded Stewart behind the plate, the Dodgers appeared to have tied the game. But Stewart hustled to retrieve the ball and threw it to Kuhl, who did a great job covering the plate and tagged Turner triumphantly for the final out.

Next comes a sentence that hasn't been written too often in here this year:

The bullpen took it from there and nailed down the win.

Other noteworthy moments:

  • Starling Marte was thrown out stealing in the bottom of the sixth. It was the first steal attempt of the season by anyone off Kershaw, who is quick to the plate. He had a good jump, and it was close.
  • Also in the sixth, Sean Rodriguez of all people was the first recipient this season of an intentional walk from Kershaw. The walk forced the Pirates to put Gregory Polanco in to pinch hit for Nicasio with two on and two outs. Polanco struck out on three pitches, aided by home-plate umpire Chris Conroy's egregiously low strike zone. Pitchers on both sides benefited from that strike zone, including Kuhl, but Dodgers pitchers seemed to be the primary beneficiaries. Or at least so it seemed to Clint Hurdle, whose barking kept his face red all evening, and to McCutchen, who spiked his bat in frustration in the bottom of the seventh and got himself ejected from the game.
  • Schugel's quiet innings in the seventh and eighth contrasted palpably with the late-game innings throughout the season by Jared Hughes and Archimedes Caminero, among others. The Pirates didn't do much offensively after the second inning, managing only four hits and one intentional walk, but it didn't matter because tonight, there was a bullpen. They may have found something in Schugel.
  • Stewart had another hit off Kershaw, a double. Baseball is unpredictable. As another example, the Dodgers had won six straight coming into Pittsburgh and have now lost three in a row to the Pirates, who can sweep the series with a win tomorrow.