Clayton Kershaw was perfect in seven innings and imperfect with his timing.
The Los Angeles Dodgers pulled their longtime ace on Wednesday despite being two innings short of MLB’s first perfect game since 2012 and the second in team history, after Sandy Koufax in 1965. The perfect game bid was lost two batters later.
Throughout the start, Kershaw had been mowing down the Minnesota Twins to a comical degree. He struck out 13 in seven innings, with little hard contact to be seen. The Twins saw his best pitch, his slider, 41 times and whiffed 17 times while putting only five in play.
Unfortunately for Kershaw and everyone rooting for him, he was making his first start of the season, after a truncated spring training, at the age of 34, in 36-degree weather, after missing last postseason with an elbow injury. An early hook was seemingly inevitable, and came to pass when manager Dave Roberts pulled him going into the eighth inning, replaced by lefty Alex Vesia. Kershaw had been at 80 pitches, only five more than the 75-pitch simulated game he threw ahead of the start.
Vesia allowed a single to his second batter, Gary Sanchez, ensuring there would be no combined perfect game, something that has never been seen in MLB.
Gary Sanchez, the second hitter after Clayton Kershaw comes out of the game, breaks up the perfect game with a single pic.twitter.com/DjGxi1V5Tx
— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) April 13, 2022
That would be the extent of the Twins’ hits for the game. The Dodgers eventually won 7-0, improving their record to 3-2.
Kershaw on perfect game hook: ‘Blame it on the lockout’
Kershaw didn’t sound too upset after the game, admitting to reporters he just hadn’t been stretched out enough ahead of the season to justify trying to pitch a complete game.
From the SportsNet LA broadcast:
“It’s hard. I feel bad for [Austin Barnes]. Barnesy did such a great job. It’s fun to get to catch one of those. I wanted to do it with Barnesy. It’d be special. But at the end of the day, those are individual things. Those are selfish goals, and we’re trying to win. That’s really all we’re here for. As much as I would’ve wanted to do it, I’ve thrown 75 pitches in a sim game, and I hadn’t gone six innings, let alone seven. Sure, I would’ve loved to do it. But maybe we’ll get another chance, who knows.”
“I would have loved to stay, but bigger things, man. Bigger things.”
Kershaw, who already has a no-hitter in his career, went on to say he knew entering the game he would not be throwing 100 pitches. When asked if he may have attempted the feat in his younger years, he pointedly noted the lockout had affected his preseason preparations and criticized his slider later in his start:
“Earlier in my career, I’d be built up to 100 pitches. Blame it on the lockout, blame it on me not picking up a baseball until January. My slider was horrible the last two innings, it didn’t have the bite. It was time.”
Roberts later said Kershaw had essentially requested to be taken out of the game after 80-85 pitches and echoed the point about the lockout-shortened preseason. To him, it was not a difficult decision:
“Basically, after the sixth inning, I just went to him and said ‘Hey, where are you at, what have you got?’ He said, ‘I’d like to go back out there for the seventh and 80, 85 pitches, that’s kind of where I want to finish.’ I was good with that. The short spring training, I felt it was a win to get him up to five [innings] and 75 [pitches], but when you’re talking about being up and down seven times, that’s something. I can’t quantify it, talking to a lot of people that have been around this game for a long time, the ups and downs certainly matter. He got to 80 pitches and I felt the stuff was starting to tick down, taking to Austin and Clayton himself.
“I had to make a tough decision, but ultimately, it wasn’t as tough as perceived. If you’re talking about his next start, it would have been a little bit tougher. Then the next start, it would have been more tough; I’d probably give him the leash. This first start, it was — I don’t want to say a no-brainer, but it was actually pretty easy.”
Not the first time Dave Roberts has yanked pitcher going for history
Justified or not, the outcome will do little to help Roberts’ rather unfortunate reputation for being a greater threat than any batter to his pitchers’ no-hit bids.
That dynamic began in the first week of Roberts’ managerial career in 2016, when he yanked rookie Ross Stripling from a no-hit bid in the eighth inning of his MLB debut. This isn’t even the first time Roberts has pulled a pitcher after seven perfect innings, as he did the same with Rich Hill in 2016 as well due to health concerns.
In Kershaw’s case, there were ample reasons to not let him blow past his intended pitch count, but that won’t do much to placate fans wanting to see history made. To date, he and Hill are the only pitchers to be pulled from a perfect game in the seventh inning or later.
Kershaw had been making his season debut as the fifth pitcher to take the ball in the Dodgers’ rotation. After entering free agency for the first time in his career last winter, he returned to the team on a one-year, $17 million deal.
That deal is off to a good start. Maybe a little too good.