Clayton Kershaw has won three National League Cy Young Awards, an NL Most Valuable Player Award and a World Series. He threw a hit and compiled an almost certain Hall of Fame resume.
But he never pitched a perfect game, and his best chance of accomplishing this exceptionally rare feat may have vanished thanks to circumstances such as a manager’s decision, his age and recent injury history and, maybe even the lockout imposed by the owner who launched the Major League. Baseball in uncertainty this winter.
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Kershaw, 34, was absolutely dominant in his first start of the season, knocking out 13 Minnesota Twins in seven innings and 80 pitches on a cold 38-degree day at Target Field in Minneapolis.
But his afternoon ended there. Manager Dave Roberts called in left-handed reliever Alex Vesia to start the eighth inning and any thoughts of a perfect combined game – it would have been the first of its kind – quickly ended when, with one out, Twins receiver Gary Sánchez hit Vesia’s fifth. throw to right field for a single.
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There have only been 23 perfect games, and none since Seattle’s Félix Hernández made it against Tampa Bay on August 15, 2012. Everything was planned for Kershaw in Minnesota, not only to mark one more historic personal moment, but to end the current drought of perfect games, the longest in MLB since the period between 1968, when Oakland’s Catfish Hunter did it against the Twins, and 1981, when Cleveland’s Len Barker strangled Toronto .
But these were accomplished before the era of height counting and conservation tactics, and Kershaw seemed like a willing victim of both as he gave up his chance at perfection. Calling it the “right decision”, Kershaw told reporters to “blame the lockdown, blame the fact that I haven’t picked up a ball for three months” during the offseason.
His age and the fact that Kershaw only made 22 starts last year and missed the entire postseason due to discomfort in his left forearm and elbow – and the fact that he has battled back problems in his past – no doubt also contributed to the blame. The Dodgers are adept at managing the health and workload of their players and, under the leadership of Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, and Roberts, prioritize goal-seeking moves at long term to win the World Series in the short term. gratification of a single moment or an individual player.
To that end, Roberts probably has a lot more experience than he’d like in pitching history, as it was the fourth time in seven years as Dodgers manager that he’d fired a pitcher from a perfect match or a no. – batter, including the only other time since at least 1901 that a pitcher was retired after seven perfect innings, according to Stats Perform.
The previous times, Roberts had made such a decision:
Right-hander Ross Stripling went seven and a third innings without a hit in his major league debut on April 8, 2016 in San Francisco before Roberts retired after 100 pitches. Noting, among other factors, that Stripling was only two years away from Tommy John’s surgery, Roberts, who was booed loudly by fans in San Francisco that night, called the decision “no head”.
Southpaw Rich Hill, like Kershaw, was throwing a perfect game when Roberts fired it. He had worked seven innings and thrown 89 pitches just five months after the Stripling game on Sept. 10, 2016, in Miami. Hill was battling persistent blistering issues and Roberts was trying to nurse him through the season and keep him effective for October, so he made the unprecedented decision to retire him. “I have a stomach ache,” Roberts said then, noting that at age 35 it was perhaps Hill’s best shot at immortality. Hill, 42, is now pitching for Boston.
Walker Buehler went six hitless innings in his third major league start in a game against San Diego in Monterrey, Mexico on May 4, 2018. But given Buehler’s youth and one night rainy, Roberts retired after 93 pitches and called it “pretty much a no-brainer.” Tony Cingrani, Yimi García and Adam Liberatore didn’t hit the Padres the rest of the way and, along with Buehler, produced the team’s first combined no-hitter on the team.
But Kershaw, just because of who he is and what he’s done, ranks on a different level. Had he finished a perfect game, it would have added to his legend and given MLB an all-time moment.
His slider was vintage, as evidenced by the Twins’ 17 misses on the field on a cold afternoon that surely reminded historians of the Dodgers’ 1965 World Series victory over Minnesota. That title was crowned by Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax who won Game 7 at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota after a short rest. The thread connecting the two left-handed aces grows stronger through Dodgers history: Kershaw and Koufax have since developed a strong friendship and mutual admiration over the years.
Meanwhile, a more recent callback to calibrating pitcher workloads came as recently as last October, when midseason acquisition Max Scherzer was unable to start the series of National League championships against Atlanta after starting one game and closing another against San Francisco in a divisional series after starting the NL’s wildcard game against St. Louis.
Still, the Dodgers plan their schedule around October. And what happened with Kershaw in Minnesota on a Thursday afternoon in April was just the most recent example.