SAN DIEGO — The National League's triple crown of pitching all but his after the Dodgers' 6-2 victory over the San Diego Padres on Sunday, Clayton Kershaw stood in front of his locker and publicly thanked his teammates as if he were an actor or singer at the podium of an awards show.
Kershaw talked about the hitters who gifted him a couple of first-inning runs at Petco Park to send him on his way to his 21st win, which tied him with Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the most in the league.
The Cy Young Award candidate talked about Rod Barajas, who was behind the plate for the majority of his league-best 248 strikeouts.
And he talked about Kenley Jansen, who prevented the man he left on third base from scoring to ensure he would end the season with an earned-run average of 2.28, lowest in the NL.
"Right now, with guys on base, I don't know if there's somebody in baseball you'd rather have than Kenley right now," Kershaw said.
That's because Jansen is striking out hitters at a record rate of 16.02 per nine innings, the highest single-season figure in major league history. Jansen replaced Kershaw in the eighth inning with one out and Alberto Gonzalez on third base. By striking out Will Venable and Cameron Maybin, Jansen made it virtually impossible for Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies to steal the ERA crown from Kershaw.
Kershaw's official line in his final start: 71/3 innings, two runs, four hits, six strikeouts and one walk.
"This is pretty awesome," Jansen said, "growing up together in the Dodgers' system, knowing each other for a while and kind of helping him out right now."
A converted catcher, Jansen was a part of another one of the most important moments of Kershaw's career.
"I caught his first game," Jansen said.
That was in the Gulf Coast League, to where Kershaw was assigned soon after the Dodgers made him their No. 1 selection in the 2006 amateur draft.
"You definitely could tell he wasn't going to be there long in the minor leagues," Jansen said.
But as high as expectations were for Kershaw -- when the left-hander was 19 years old, then-Dodgers manager Joe Torre compared him to Sandy Koufax -- he somehow exceeded them this season.
"He had the ability, but I don't know if he thought he was going to be this good so soon," said Matt Kemp, who is in pursuit of the hitter's version of the triple crown.
Unless Lee pitches 102/3 scoreless innings or strikes out 17 on Monday in his final start of the season, the 23-year-old Kershaw will become the 16th NL pitcher since 1900 to win the triple crown. The last to do so was Jake Peavy, then of the San Diego Padres, in 2007.
Kershaw's win total is the best by a Dodgers pitcher since Orel Hershiser won 23 games in 1988 and his ERA the lowest by a Los Angeles starter since Hershiser's 2.03 ERA in 1985.
The last time a Dodgers pitcher struck out more batters than Kershaw was in 1966.
The pitcher? Koufax.
"It's been an awesome year," Kershaw said. "I don't like to look at personal stuff too often, but now is the time I can start looking back a little bit."
The view in the opposing clubhouse was that he deserves the Cy Young Award, as Manager Bud Black, All-Star closer Heath Bell and infielder Orlando Hudson backed his candidacy.
Pointing out that he wouldn't learn the results of the balloting until after the World Series, Kershaw didn't sound too concerned about whether he would win.
"Right now, I'm just done," he said. "I'm already kind of mentally shutting it down."
Kershaw said he would run Monday and play catch with Hiroki Kuroda, as is his custom on days before Kuroda's starts.
"But I'm not going to lift weights," Kershaw said. "I'm going to watch baseball, front-row seats."