LOS ANGELES -- No Dodgers pitcher that I can remember has had quite the burden of expectations on his shoulders as Clayton Kershaw. From the time he was drafted in 2006 through Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, all Kershaw has done is deliver on his tremendous promise.
The latest gem was a no-hitter against the Rockies, a dominant 15-strikeout, no-walk performance that was a Hanley Ramirez throwing error away from a perfect game.
"He's the best pitcher on the planet," boasted catcher A.J. Ellis," and it's not even close."
We've seen Kershaw be great before. You don't win two Cy Young Awards in three seasons - finishing second in the other year, in 2012 - without flashes of brilliance. Five straight years with an ERA under 3.00, and three straight major league ERA titles don't come without a certain sustained level of excellence.
It is that ridiculously high standard set by Kershaw that makes us wonder how he can top himself, and yet he managed to do it on Wednesday.
Kershaw's 15 strikeouts set a new career high, and were the most ever by a Dodger in a no-hitter. That's a big deal too, as the Dodgers have thrown 22 no-hitters. The 15 strikeouts were the most in any no-hitter since Nolan Ryan struck out 16 on May 1, 1991 against Toronto.
"You don't ever think about getting to do something like [a no-hitter]. You always think about winning the World Series, or being a part of that," Kershaw said. "As far as individual stuff goes, this ranks right up there."
Kershaw is well known for his singular focus, especially on days he pitches - "I don't know, I'm very not approachable I guess," he said, laughing - and that focus is appreciated among teammates.
"You know what's cool about tonight? All those guys sit out there and watch him. If you talk to our guys, nobody deserves it more than him," manager Don Mattingly said. "They know he works hard every day. He does everything the right way. He's a great teammate.
"He's constantly on the move, even though he's won a couple of Cy Youngs he doesn't let that get in the way of him going forward all the time. It's just so nice to watch someone like that get it."
Even on the error by Ramirez, allowing Corey Dickerson to be the only Rockies player to reach base - shades of Bill Russell's error in the no-hitter by Jerry Reuss in 1980 - Kershaw went over to console his shortstop.
"He's our ace. He knew right away I was mad and came over to cheer me up," Ramirez said. "When you have a pitcher like him having a perfect game going, you try to do your best."
"That was a really though play. Under normal circumstances, that was pretty close to a hit," Kershaw said. "Hanley did all he can. There is nothing you can really do about that."
For some time, I have had a running joke on Twitter whenever Kershaw allows his first hit of the game, I would tweet something to the effect of "154 starts for Clayton Kershaw, still doesn't have a no-hitter." That had to be updated Wednesday night.
Clayton Kershaw, 192 starts, ONE no-hitter— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) June 19, 2014
It's unfair to expect someone to ever pitch a no-hitter. Some great pitchers, like Greg Maddux and Roger Clemens to name two, never threw a no-hitter yet their greatness was never diminished. But still we assumed, took for granted a no-hitter from Kershaw, and somehow he delivered.
"I think Clayton pitches to win so much that his main focus is winning the game. He attacks the strike zone, you see his walk total is so low this year. He's inducing a lot of contact, and when you do that you're going to have flares fall in, balls get through the hole," Ellis said. "Once we got a little bit deeper in the game, those breaking balls were just so devastating, and the strikeouts kept mounting up, we knew there would be a chance."
You bet there was a chance.
True story: I was really close to not coming to Wednesday's game. While there is no Dodgers game on Thursday my editing duties make for a full day that starts at 5 a.m. PT, and I nearly opted to cover the game from home, watching on television, allowing for a few extra hours of sleep.
But I decided to come to the game. Because Clayton Kershaw was on the mound.
Kershaw came through yet again.