LOS ANGELES (AP) — Clayton Kershaw lowered his major league-leading ERA to 1.88 with eight innings of three-hit ball and had a two-run single, and the Los Angeles Dodgers increased their NL West lead to a season-best 7½ games Sunday night with an 8-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Mark Ellis had a homer and three RBIs to help Los Angeles improve to a major league-best 37-8 since June 22, a stretch that has dramatically turned around their season after they trailed the Arizona Diamondbacks by as many as 9½ games. The Dodgers are a season-best 17 games over .500.
The Rays lost their season-worst fifth in a row, but remained three games behind AL East-leading Boston following the Red Sox’s loss at Kansas City.
Kershaw (11-7) allowed two runs — one earned — and struck out eight to help the Dodgers complete their seventh series sweep of the season. Tampa Bay’s only hits off the 2011 Cy Young Award winning left-hander through the first seven innings came in the fifth, a leadoff single by Yunel Escobar and a two-out triple by pinch-hitter Sam Fuld.
The Rays loaded the bases with none out in the eighth and rookie Wil Myers drove in their second run with a sacrifice fly. The run was unearned because of shortstop Dee Gordon’s fielding error. Gordon also committed throw errors in the third and sixth innings, but Kershaw quickly erased both mistakes by retiring the next batter on a double-play grounder.
The Dodgers finished their interleague schedule 11-6, their first winning record against AL clubs since going 10-8 in 2004, and the Rays completed their interleague slate 12-8. Kershaw is 6-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 17 career interleague starts, striking out 116 batters in 111 1-3 innings.
Jeremy Hellickson (10-6) gave up four runs and seven hits through three innings in his first career start against the Dodgers, marking the sixth time in Tampa Bay’s last nine games that its starting pitcher didn’t last five innings.
The right-hander’s 4.93 ERA is the highest among major league pitchers with at least 10 wins. Hellickson has surrendered 13 runs in 12 innings over his last three starts, after going 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA over his previous seven outings. Hellickson is 1-6 with a 7.19 ERA in 10 career interleague outings.
Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis opened the Dodgers’ three-run second inning with singles, and both advanced on Juan Uribe’s third sacrifice bunt of the season before Kershaw drove them in with a sharp two-out single through the left side of the infield. Carl Crawford then singled and Mark Ellis doubled home Kershaw.
A.J. Ellis made it 4-0 in the third with a sacrifice fly, and the Dodgers tacked on two more in the fourth on a two-out double by Adrian Gonzalez that raised his team-high RBI total to 74.
Kershaw faced an all-right-handed lineup that included switch-hitters Ben Zobrist and Jose Lobaton. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had his starting pitcher bat eighth ahead of left fielder Jason Bourgeois.
Hellickson, who came in with one hit in five big league at-bats, struck out looking his only time up. He was the fourth AL pitcher to bat higher than ninth since interleague play began in 1977, along with David Phelps for the Yankees on May 8, Zack Greinke for Kansas City in 2009, and Andy Sonnanstine for the Rays in 2009.
Sonnanstine had to bat third that day because of a lineup mistake by Maddon that had Zobrist and Evan Longoria both starting at third base. As a result, the Rays were forced to lose their designated hitter — Longoria — for the entire game. Sonnanstine went 1 for 3 with an RBI double in his 7-5 victory against Cleveland at St. Petersburg, Fla.
NOTES: Other managers over the years have batted their starting pitcher in the eighth spot, including Tony La Russa, Ned Yost and Joe Torre — who did it twice with Kershaw. “A lot of it had to do with Myers hitting second — or most of it had to with that,” Maddon said. “It’s almost like Bourgeois is another leadoff hitter feeding into him. The other part of putting your pitcher in the 8-hole is that you get a chance to make a decision sooner if you need to pinch hit for this guy, or move it along at that particular juncture.” … Los Angeles’ Yasiel Puig was intentionally walked for the fourth time in the series — two more than he had in his 57 previous big league games combined.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.