(Reuters) - Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw became only the third pitcher since 2000 to post a 300-strikeout season in their 6-3 win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
On a pitch count to prepare for the playoffs, the left-hander entered the game needing six strikeouts to achieve the milestone.
He led off by striking out Melvin Upton Jr. and reached the 300-mark when he got Upton again in the third inning before he calmly walked back to the dugout to a standing ovation from the Dodger Stadium crowd in Los Angeles.
That put the 27-year-old pitcher, the National League’s most valuable player in 2014, in an elite ‘300’ club along with Curt Schilling (2002) and Hall of Famer Randy Johnson (2000, 2001 and 2002).
“Just pitch normally. If my pitch count got there by the time I got the six strikeouts, I would’ve came out of the game,” Kershaw told mlb.com.
“Just the importance factor of trying to be fresh for the playoffs is more important than 300 strikeouts.”
Kershaw, who is also a three-time Cy Young Award winner, joined fellow left-hander Sandy Koufax as the only Dodgers pitchers to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. Koufax last achieved the feat in 1966.
After reaching his limit of 60 pitches, Kershaw left the game to another standing ovation in the fourth, having registered seven strikeouts while allowing only two baserunners on singles in 3-2/3 innings.
The left-hander retired 10 successive batters from the first through the fourth innings and finished with 301 strikeouts before the Dodgers went on to complete their win.
“It’s definitely a cool thing,” Kershaw added of the milestone.
“It’s obviously not the most important thing in the world. But when you settle down and look back on a career, you get to say that you did it once.”
The Dodgers will head into the National League Division Series against the New York Mets in Los Angeles on Friday on a four-game winning streak.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury