SAN FRANCISCO -- The only drawback with being as great as Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner is found in the implausibly high standards they set for themselves. Living up to that greatness is an ongoing challenge.
Neither left-hander was at the peak of his powers on Wednesday night at AT&T Park, but each made progress in that direction before the Giants seized a 3-2 decision from the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth inning on Joe Panik's winning sacrifice fly.
In their fourth outings in a season of uncharacteristic struggles thus far, a well-pitched draw by Kershaw and Bumgarner in their fourth career showdown was probably about as much as either artist had a right to expect.
"Madison's great," Kershaw said. "I've pitched against him a lot before. I don't know how I have three hits off him [in seven at-bats], because I had no chance tonight [striking out twice]. It's always going to be a tough matchup against a guy like that."
Kershaw struck out nine and shaved his ERA to 4.07, while yielding two runs on three hits and a walk over six innings. Bumgarner stuck out six and reduced his ERA to 4.63, while surrendering six hits and two walks in his 6 1/3 innings.
They are in line to stage a repeat on Monday night at Dodger Stadium, on Kershaw's home turf.
"I said before the game I was looking forward to the matchup," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "and it was as advertised. Both had great stuff and pitched very well. It was a great game, a really great game."
Don Mattingly didn't care for the way it ended, with catcher A.J. Ellis forced to leave the game with an injured right hand, but the Dodgers manager agreed with Bochy about the quality of two aces.
"I thought Kersh was good tonight," Mattingly said, "and I thought their guy threw the ball better as the game went on. It's tough for somebody in Kersh's position. He gave up two runs on, what, three hits? He does set a high standard for himself."
Kershaw and Bumgarner were gone after 6 1/2 innings, the game even at 2 following Alex Guerrero's two-run homer as a pinch-hitter for Kershaw in the seventh inning.
Before it turned into a duel of bullpens, Kershaw and Bumgarner showed why so few contemporaries are in their class. There even was one compelling act of drama involving the two great lefties as the Giants were seizing a two-run lead in the third inning.
Bumgarner, a 2014 National League Silver Slugger Award winner, came to the plate after Joaquin Arias' leadoff single and a pivotal seven-pitch walk earned by Brandon Crawford.
Kershaw's first pitch, a 94 mph heater, was laced foul by Bumgarner, who fouled off a bunt attempt to fall in a hole. Taking two curves in the dirt for balls, a fastball came in on his fists, and Bumgarner somehow managed to get the bunt down, perfectly.
"The bunt is part of the game, something we should be able to do every time," Bumgarner said, unimpressed.
On Nori Aoki's grounder that shortstop Jimmy Rollins backhanded for an out at first, Arias scored and Crawford took third. When Matt Duffy stroked a first-pitch single to center, the Giants were looking and feeling good again. That hasn't happened often in the shaky early days of their latest World Series title defense.
"I don't think you'll ever come in this clubhouse and find anybody surprised we won," Bumgarner said.
Kershaw was upset with the walk to Crawford after jumping ahead 0-2 in the count.
"It's how they got their runs," Kershaw said. "I threw a little bit better but still left a few I'd like to have back. I felt great physically, but I'm tired of going six innings. I want to get deeper in the game. It's frustrating."
Trailing without being hit hard, Kershaw suddenly recaptured his dominance, striking out eight of the last 10 batters he faced.
Bumgarner was the superb craftsman, in fine form. Red flags were withdrawn over struggles in his previous two starts against the Padres and D-backs -- nine runs and 16 hits in 10 innings combined. This was the MadBum embraced by Giants fans for his greatness under fire.
"Regardless of who I'm pitching against," Bumgarner said, "I've gotta get hitters out. That's my job. I felt pretty good tonight. My stuff was good; my command was good. It's always fun to play against the Dodgers."
The Dodgers were left with concerns about the condition of Ellis' hand after it was struck by a Chris Hatcher pitch that glanced off the body of Giants hitter Justin Maxwell in the ninth. Ellis, whose single in the seventh preceded Guerrero's home run, was forced to leave as J.P. Howell came on to yield a single to Brandon Belt and Panik's game-ending sacrifice fly to center.
Lyle Spencer is a national reporter and columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.