LOS ANGELES (AP) — Will Smith has packed an extraordinary number of incredible achievements into his 14 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A curtain call in front of a sellout Dodger Stadium crowd after his grand slam might not even top the list.
Clayton Kershaw has done a whole lot more for a whole lot longer than his rookie catcher, and he made more Dodgers history during another blowout win for the major league leaders.
Smith hit his first career grand slam, and Kershaw passed Sandy Koufax on the Dodgers’ career strikeouts list while throwing six strong innings in Los Angeles’ 8-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night.
After Smith connected to deep center off Padres reliever Trey Wingenter in the sixth, his teammates firmly shoved him out of the dugout for that curtain call. The 24-year-old prospect with the Hollywood name has adapted to the big leagues without a hitch during one of the most prolific starts to a career in the Dodgers’ lengthy history.
“I don’t really surprise myself,” said Smith, who is batting .349 with 19 RBIs in the big leagues. “You never know what you’re going to do when you get called up, but I think every guy down at Triple-A and the minor leagues believes in themselves that they can compete at this level. I did, and I’ve just shown it.”
Smith already has six homers for LA — including two walk-off blasts during his first call-up in June — and 11 extra-base hits. His 19 RBIs are the most in franchise history over a player’s first 14 games, surpassing Bellinger’s 17 RBIs two years ago in his Rookie of the Year season.
“It just seems like every situation that’s been a really huge situation, he’s come up big for us,” Kershaw said. “I don’t know what else you can say about him.”
Smith was sent back to Triple-A for a month after his earlier heroics, but returned to the Dodgers last week with a six-RBI performance at Washington, again in support of Kershaw. He is batting .471 with 13 RBIs since his latest recall, getting a hit in all five games.
“He’s just got clarity in the box,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I’m cautious to make this comparison, but Puig was like this when he came up. That’s the only time I’ll compare Will Smith and Yasiel Puig, but he’s come up with that excitement. When he comes up (to the plate), guys want to watch him. That expectation, anticipation when he steps up, and then the delivery.”
Cody Bellinger hit his first homer in two weeks and added a two-run double for the Dodgers (72-39), who opened a 10-game homestand with their third straight win. Matt Beaty had an RBI double as Los Angeles surged into August by taking a 16-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West.
Hunter Renfroe hit his 30th homer and Manny Machado had an RBI single for the Padres, who opened August with another loss after going 8-16 in July.
Smith’s slam made a winner out of Kershaw (10-2), who moved into third place in Dodgers history and first among lefties after passing Koufax while recording five strikeouts, giving him 2,397 in a career spent entirely in blue.
“It was really cool,” Kershaw said. “It’s a special thing anytime you get mentioned in the same breath as Sandy. He wouldn’t have been proud of this one, but I’ll try to get better the next one. … I can’t even talk about it, it was so bad. I’m just going to move on to the next one.”
Kershaw struggled with five walks and gave up exactly one hit in every inning, but repeatedly escaped trouble to remain unbeaten since June.
“We had good at-bats all night long, even through the ninth inning,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “Just came down to those opportunities when we had the chance to maybe get a big hit, we didn’t come through.”
Joey Lucchesi (7-6) yielded four hits and three walks, but left with the bases loaded right before Smith’s slam.
“How disappointed was I? Super disappointed,” Lucchesi said. “If we get that out in the sixth, it’s a 2-1 ballgame. It didn’t go our way. I’ve just got to be better.”
Renfroe led off the second with a solo shot, securing his first 30-homer season with two months to spare.
Bellinger answered with a 425-foot shot into right for his 35th homer on Lucchesi’s first pitch of the bottom half. The NL leader in wins above replacement hadn’t homered since July 16, matching his longest homer drought of the season at 12 games.
Kershaw tied Koufax with his 2,396th career strikeout to end the fifth. Kershaw then struck out Austin Hedges in the sixth to pull even with Kevin Brown for 49th place on baseball’s career list. Only Don Sutton and Don Drysdale have more strikeouts than Kershaw and Koufax in Dodgers history.
Dodgers: LF Alex Verdugo was a late scratch with left knee soreness. Beaty took his spot and had two hits. Verdugo is expected to play Friday, but OF A.J. Pollock probably won’t after feeling pain in his groin while running the bases.
Dustin May, the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect, makes his major league debut against San Diego’s Eric Lauer (5-8, 4.52 ERA). The hard-throwing, 21-year-old May is 6-foot-6 with a huge head of curly red hair, earning him the nickname “Gingergaard” in tribute to the Mets’ similarly coiffed Noah Syndergaard.
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