Ahead of the first matchup between Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner in almost five years, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts predicted the showdown would “bring out the best” in the two decorated left-handers.
He noted their career-long friendship and mutual respect. He noted their competitive nature and equally intense internal drives.
“They always want to outdo one another,” Roberts said. “You’re gonna see that come out tonight.”
The only problem?
Bumgarner no longer resides in Kershaw’s future Hall of Fame realm.
And in the Dodgers’ 10-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, the gulf between the two grew ever-more wide.
Kershaw, beginning his 16th major league season at age 35, dominated in a six-inning, one-run master-class.
He struck out nine, many via a vintage curveball that awed the crowd of 48,886 at Dodger Stadium.
He faced little stress, yielding just four hits and no walks en route to his 198th career win, leaving him two shy of another milestone.
Bumgarner, meanwhile, continued to look mired in his late-career slide.
Entering his fourth season in Arizona, where the 33-year-old posted a 4.98 earned-run average in his first three years, the former San Francisco Giants great opened his 2023 campaign with a disastrous five-run first inning.
Mookie Betts led off with a double that might have been a home run if not for fan interference.
Chris Taylor lifted a sacrifice fly to open the scoring. Then Trayce Thompson capped the big inning with a two-out grand slam — the first of his three home runs in an eight-RBI season debut.
Bumgarner settled down from there, showing flashes of his old self to get through the fourth inning without any more damage.
But after once jockeying with Kershaw for the title of best left-hander in baseball — and even prevailing in six of his previous 11 head-to-head matchups against Kershaw over the years — the contrast present between the two was impossible to hide.
To Roberts, it all said less about Bumgarner, whose decline is hardly out of the ordinary for a high-mileage pitcher, and more about Kershaw, whose recent history of injuries remains the only discernible impediment he’s faced from father time.
“It amazes me in one sense, but it’s not surprising given who he is,” Roberts said. “He’s a testament to competing, [having] will, not taking a day for granted. That’s something that is going to be part of his legacy going forward.”
It has also helped him transition into a new phase of his career, finding ways to sustain much of his trademark excellence even as he has moved past his three-time Cy Young Award-winning prime.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.