The most impressive streak of the 2014 MLB season has finally come to an end. With a solo home run in the top of the sixth inning, Padres third baseman Chase Headley halted Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw's scoreless innings streak at 41.
Headley hit the solo shot with two outs in the sixth, tying the clash between NL West foes at 1-1. Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, had gone through his last four starts scoreless and was carrying a 36-inning streak heading into Thursday night.
SportsCenter eventually provided Kershaw's final line:
For his first 5.2 innings, Kershaw looked every bit like he was continuing his charge toward Orel Hershiser's record of 59 straight scoreless. He'd given up only one hit, a single to Alexi Amarista in the third inning. Continuing to improve on his career-best strikeout numbers, Kershaw had also struck out seven before Headley's fateful at bat.
While the Dodger Stadium faithful were disappointed to see the streak end, it's hard to say Headley didn't earn it. Down 1-2 after swinging and missing at two consecutive pitches, he fouled off three straight before sending a towering drive over the centerfield fence.
The homer comes as a bit of a surprise given Headley's less-than-stellar history against Kershaw. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Padres star was 10-for-48 without a home run for his career entering the game. Headley has also been mired in a season-long slump, his batting average hovering around the Mendoza line and his power splits still not close to his 2012 numbers.
The home run was just the seventh of his season.
As for Kershaw, his streak will still go down in the record books regardless. Only Hershiser and Don Drysdale have longer scoreless strings in Dodgers history, a somewhat bad luck of the draw given how many franchises for which Kershaw would have set a record. His is the 15th longest streak in history.
"He's just really good," manager Don Mattingly told reporters last week. "It's been like that for a few years now. He had a really good month, but for those of us that get to see him every day, or a lot, it's not a lot different. It's maybe just a little better."
As noted by Matt Snyder of CBS Sports, Brandon Webb (2007) and R.A. Dickey (2012) are the only two pitchers since Hershiser to have longer streaks than Kershaw. The period of dormancy between those long streaks included baseball's artificially enhanced offensive boom.
With run production dropping for the third straight season, we may start seeing a higher frequency of these situations. At 4.13 runs per game, MLB scoring is the lowest it's been since 1992, per Baseball-Reference. In the last seven years alone, run production has dropped by more than a half-run. As teams continue struggling to adjust to a new and improved pitching era, maybe Kershaw's streak won't feel as special in a couple of years.
For now, it's merely the latest indicator of how dominant the game's best pitcher can be. Had it not been for an early-season injury, Kershaw would again be the runaway Cy Young favorite. He came into Thursday night with a 1.85 ERA and 0.87 WHIP, numbers right in line with his remarkable 2013 campaign. Factoring in his uptick in strikeouts, one might even argue he's been better this season.
Who knows? The next person with a Kershaw-like streak might be Kershaw himself. Let's just appreciate this one for what it was.
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