Clayton Kershaw faced 42 batters in a row over two games in a row from my perspective and got them all out. He managed to strike out 19 of those batters. This is the story of how I was (figuratively) personally trapped in a video game with Clayton Kershaw.
You never know what you are going to see if you go to the ballpark, but in my wildest dreams, I would not have predicted that outcome for Kershaw at the start of the year. I can admit when I am wrong. Most people will hedge or try and deflect, but admitting when you are wrong is one the best and hardest things a person can do. We learn most from failure. This preamble serves as an introduction to the following statement:
When healthy, Kershaw was serviceable at best for most of 2021 with one glaring exception: games when I was in attendance. Kershaw’s performance was so poor and so shocking, I am not afraid to admit that I developed a bit of a complex about it. In the days when I was poor, I literally would drive to one game a year, if I was lucky, with the sole goal of seeing Clayton Kershaw. And he largely was brilliant every single time, which is unheard of.
Then the lockout happened, which resulted in a truncated spring training.
So when the Dodgers resigned Kershaw for 2022, my reaction was muted. I felt this way because I had no expectations for Kershaw for the first time. However, Kershaw proved me wrong. Clayton Kershaw did something that no other pitcher since 1961 had ever done: be perfect multiple times through seven innings in a single season.
Due to my travels this year, I had the unique fortune of being in attendance for Clayton Kershaw to literally be perfect for fourteen straight innings in consecutive starts in Minneapolis and Anaheim. This “streak” was for two starts in April in Minneapolis and July in Anaheim. The “streak” lasted until Luis Rengifo broke the streak with a double in the eighth inning in Anaheim.
There is no official statistic regarding what I saw. As far as I know, I am the only person not employed by the Dodgers or covering the team in person to have a first-hand account of this odd quirk of scheduling.
Frankly, I will remember these two games for the rest of my life.
While I previously discussed this outing before, now I have the benefit of about six months of hindsight.
Personally, the lockout resulted in some lengthy long-form essays and canceling and un-canceling a trip to Minneapolis in mid-April. Based on how the Dodgers' rotation order was shaping up at the beginning of the year, I figured that I would see Tony Gonsolin and Andrew Heaney on successive starts. Instead, Heaney and Kershaw were the biggest rotation question marks to me at this time of the year. Again, I was wrong about Kershaw and Heaney was electric until his chronic “homer-itis” kicked back in.
After a rainy, borderline-miserable night where I could not even enjoy my return to the road for regular-season Dodger baseball, I prepared to watch Kershaw’s first start of the year. He looked vintage while warming up, but I was happy that he was on the mound and that the weather we going to cooperate that day. Snow was forecast, but I did not think we would see any (we did in the later innings).
What stood out to me about Kershaw’s stuff that day was that he was sharper than I had seen in a long time. But the other thing that stood out is how aggressively the Twins’ batters were flailing at Kershaw’s pitches. Austin Barnes was catching Kershaw that afternoon, which made sense considering how miserable the conditions were the night before and the fact that this series was a two-game night-day affair.
Kershaw had 13 strikeouts that day, but unlike in his vintage prime, he wasn’t overpowering anyone ala Jacob deGrom. He was just effective and honestly, his perfection snuck up on me. I did not even notice it until after five innings, and even when I described what I was seeing, it felt more conversational than historic. It is important to remember that this game was a close affair until the late innings. This game was the first game in that I was actively live-tweeting what I was seeing for True Blue LA.
But the tension rose during the sixth inning. Not because Kershaw was challenged — far from it, he struck out the side in convincing fashion. At this point, the Twins faithful were starting to cheer each out that Kershaw recorded. Around me, people started to murmur that they had skipped work to see history. I hissed at them to be quiet. I am fond of saying that I am not superstitious; I am regular stitious, by which I mean that any perfect game bid or no-hitter bid is not worthy of texting people to stop what they are doing until it survives the seventh inning.
At this point, I noticed snow starting to fall, albeit lightly. I saw that Alex Vesia was warming up in the bullpen. The Dodgers tacked on three more runs in the eighth, making it a six-run lead. I was hoping to see Kershaw in the eighth, but I totally understood Dave Roberts’ decision to pull Kershaw. Did I mention the fact that it was lightly snowing...at a baseball game?
Alex Vesia came in, he got booed lustily (not by me) and two batters later the combined perfecto bid was over. Granted, the decision sparked a figurative thousand editorials. I was fine with it as someone who was actually there. Kershaw was fine with it, which was good enough for me.
After Vesia, in the ninth, came Justin Bruihl. As I commonly said, there is no offense, only Bruihl.
Honestly, I did not forget about Kershaw’s start in Minneapolis, but life went on. I did not see the Dodgers in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., or Chicago (AL) (thank you decaying body and COVID, respectively). I saw the Dodgers in Phoenix and I was on a return to trip to Anaheim to see my law school friend and his wife.
Originally, I was not planning to go to this game, but my friend and his wife were available for Game 1 of this series and not Game 2, so I adjusted my schedule accordingly. Truthfully, the Big A is a rather mediocre place to watch a baseball game under the best of circumstances. The fact that you will be gouged as to the cost of admission is just injury to insult.
After Kershaw was perfect after two innings, I said a single yay and clapped. My friends asked why. I said that technically Kershaw has thrown a perfect game in front of me, but I doubt anyone apart from me will ever know that fact.
To no one’s surprise, Austin Barnes was again catching Kershaw on this Friday night. While Kershaw’s line score is less impressive than his line score in Minneapolis (6 K, 1 H over 8 innings versus 13K, 0 H over seven innings), based purely on the eye test, Kershaw looked way sharper in Anaheim.
It felt like he was toying with the Angels’ hitters. To be fair, at this point of the season, that statement was quite a low bar. But there was only one hitter that looked like he could touch Kershaw that night: Shohei Ohtani. About a month prior, Ohtani broke up Tyler Anderson’s no-hit bid in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw and Ohtani had three duels in this game; Kershaw won all three, with two strikeouts and a groundout to third.
For the record, the avid Angels fan you hear in the background of this video is my friend. I asked if he wanted to witness history. He was adamant in saying no. There was palpable tension for each Ohtani/Kershaw at-bat, which only grew as the game went on.
As I previously wrote, the defense was more noticeable in this game with Justin Turner’s stop in the fourth inning, and Hanser Alberto providing web gems in the fifth AND sixth innings, there was an electricity present in the ballpark that was absent in Minneapolis. And before I knew it, Kershaw had once again been perfect through seven innings.
Now, if Dave Roberts had pulled Kershaw this time, I would have lost my literal mind. Entering the eighth inning, Kershaw was at 71 pitches. It was a lovely night in Anaheim. The All-Star Break for a game in Los Angeles would start after the game the next day. No one seriously believed that Roberts would pull Kershaw here, but you do it enough times (Stripling, Hill, Kershaw) and a reputation justifiably sticks.
And so Kershaw went out for the eighth. He had been perfect for 42 batters — not so much for number 43.
Kershaw left Rengifo stranded and left to an ovation after eight. I sardonically said to my friend, “well, Alex Vesia got one, so I guess that’s a silver lining.” I could not quite fathom what I had just witnessed over these two games.
For the completionists, Reyes Moronta came for the ninth and blew the shutout, because of course he did. He did ensure that Ohtani went 0 for 4 that night to end the game, if one must look for a silver lining in everything.
Greatness is not ordained or predetermined, but rather it is the culmination of hard work, opportunity, and a little luck. I saw Kershaw one more time in 2022, two weeks after Anaheim in Denver with friends. I got to the ballpark late. By the time I made it to my seat, he had already given up a run, forget about being perfect.
I felt sad for whatever fleeting magic I had seen in the cold of Minneapolis and the warmth of Anaheim had dissipated with that Rengifo double. Kershaw was just mortal again. And while that magic was gone, I was grateful that I got to see it with my own eyes and document what I was blessed enough to witness.
Eric mentioned in the official Year in Review piece his view of which of these Kershaw starts was superior. It’s akin to arguing which is the best Beatles song, which Van Gogh is the best, and which Star Trek movie is the best. Personally, “Eleanor Rigby,” “Starry Night,” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” Minneapolis was a surprising and wonderful joy and when the snow started to fall, I knew we would likely be cut short. In my eyes, Anaheim was the superior start. The Twins would flail at anything that afternoon, whereas the only Angel with a shot of doing anything was Ohtani. Until Rengifo had the moment of his 2022 in an otherwise forgettable trainwreck of a season.
Regardless, I saw dominance personified in one man — the face of our beloved franchise, Clayton Edward Kershaw.
And then Gonsolin had to ruin the vibe by being perfect into five innings in Kansas City and taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning. But today (and yesterday) belong to Kershaw and that story can wait for another day.