Just when you were beginning to hold your breath as Clayton Kershaw approached a perfect game, Dodger manager Dave Roberts induced a huge exhale by lifting his ace from the masterpiece.
Kershaw was six outs away from what would have been the 24th perfect game in Major League history when the rules of “New Age” baseball kicked in. Pitch counts rule the day. Kershaw was at 80 through seven innings, a manageable number, when Roberts pulled the plug.
Now in Roberts’ defense, there were extenuating circumstances. Kershaw is 34 and somewhat fragile after being hurt last season. The lockout cut a chunk out of spring training when he could have extended himself. The temperature in Minneapolis was 38 degrees.
Still, he was on the precipice of baseball history, the most difficult single achievement a pitcher can accomplish. And after 21 consecutive batters retired, 13 by strikeouts, he was told to take the rest of the day off.
If nothing else, Roberts was consistent. The Kershaw episode was the fourth time he has cut short a pitcher’s run at no-hit glory. Ross Stripling, Rich Hill and Walker Buehler can tell you all about that.
Stripling was through 7 1/3 hitless innings in his Major League debut at San Francisco on April 8, 2016. At 100 pitches, he was lifted. Roberts explained that the youngster was just two years removed from Tommy John surgery and had to be protected.
Hill was at seven perfect innings and 89 pitches later that season at Miami when Roberts, planning for October, lifted the 35-year-old left-hander, ending the pitcher’s best chance for a no-no.
Buehler, making just his third Major League start, had six no-hit innings and 93 pitches against San Diego on a rainy night in Monterrey, Mexico on May 4, 2018, when the manager came for him. Three other Dodger pitchers completed the team’s first combined no-hitter.
So, given the manager’s history and given the pitcher’s history, it was pretty much a given that Kershaw would be leaving his gem before it became a full-fledged gem. That’s the nature of modern baseball, which is played by formula these days.
One question, though.
Do you think Bob Gibson would ever walk away from a potential perfect game? Not likely, considering that he once took a shot off his leg and continued to pitch. Only later did he discover that he was pitching on a broken leg.