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On removing Clayton Kershaw from a perfect game

Reaction to Kershaw’s brilliant first start of 2022, and Dave Roberts’ decision to take him out after seven innings.

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MLB: APR 13 Dodgers at Twins

Clayton Kershaw’s first start of his 15th season went as well as possible on a cold Wednesday afternoon in Minneapolis. Kershaw retired all 21 batters he faced, pulled after 80 pitches in his first start after a truncated spring training and a long winter of rest after elbow pain during the second half of 2021.

“He was was awesome today. Later on in the season, when he’s a little more built up, I think he goes out there, but I think it was the right call taking him out,” Austin Barnes told Kirsten Watson on SportsNet LA after the game. “It was the right move for sure. He was getting a little bit tired.”

Kershaw’s 13 strikeouts on Thursday are the most in any major league game this season, and his 61.9-percent strikeout rate trails on Jesus Luzardo of the Marlins, who struck out 12 of his 18 batters faced (66.7 percent) on Tuesday.

As you might imagine, the vintage Kershaw performance coupled with Dave Roberts’ decision to remove him from a perfect game garnered a lot of reaction.

“The coming days and weeks and months will answer questions about his health,” wrote Andy McCullough at The Athletic. “But his reaction on Wednesday, as he smiled on a diamond and accepted hugs and daps inside his dugout, hinted at the depth of his affection for his team and his craft and a profession that has so often tortured him.”

“If there was a takeaway for baseball as an ongoing entertainment concern, it was one of rejuvenation,” wrote Zach Crizer at Yahoo Sports.

Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts wrote about the art of choosing joy over blame.

Jared Diamond at the Wall Street Journal talked to Terry Collins, who when managing the Mets in 2012 left Johan Santana for 134 pitches to finish a no-hitter — the first in Mets history — 10 starts before Santana got hurt and never pitched in the majors again.

Despite circumstances — first start after the lockout, Kershaw coming off injury, Kershaw himself saying he was tired and his devastating slider lost bite — being clearly more responsible for Kershaw’s removal after seven innings than any sort of boogeyman, Reggie Jackson, an expert in not getting out of the way, tweeted, “THIS IS BASEBALL PLEASE PEOPLE THAT HAVE NEVER PLAYED GET OUT OF ITS WAY.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who did play the game in the majors for 10 seasons, explained his decision to pull Kershaw after seven innings. From Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:

“Yeah, I have to make a tough decision. But ultimately, it wasn’t as tough as perceived. If you’re talking about his next start, it’d be a little bit tougher. Then the next start, it would have probably been more tough and I’d probably have given him a leash. But this first start, it was – I don’t want to say a no-brainer, but it was actually pretty easy.”

Kershaw was all smiles after his shortened start, with only one exception, says Jack Harris at the Los Angeles Times:

Then he found catcher Austin Barnes and wrapped him in a quick hug, the only time a dejected look ever crossed his face.

“Sorry,” Kershaw told his catcher, as a perfect day came to an imperfect end.

Barnes looked back at the future Hall of Famer, tapped his side and flashed a grin.

“Blame it on the lockout, blame it on me not picking up a baseball until January,” Kershaw told reporters after the game, from Brian Hall at MLB.com.

Contributing factors made it clear pulling Kershaw was the right call, says Jim Alexander of the Orange County Register.

“No, there was no possibility of Kershaw pitching nine innings, no matter how efficient he was, no matter how dominant he was, no matter what. That’s not analytics. That’s just plain common sense,” wrote Joe Posnanski at his newsletter.

Kershaw realizes there are bigger things ahead, writes Bill Plaschke of the LA Times.

“Baseball has asked us to give up on childish things and accept that the perfect game is just gone now, like Saturday morning cartoons and Happy Meals,” writes Patrick Dubuque at Baseball Prospectus.

“Always, the Dodgers plan their calendar around October. And what happened with Kershaw in Minnesota on a Wednesday afternoon in April was only the most recent example,” says Scott Miller at the New York Times.

MLB.com chronicled 21 pitchers who were removed from pitching a no-hitter through at least seven innings, including the Padres Sean Manaea just five days earlier.

Here’s the print front page of the Los Angeles Times sports section, with a snappy headline: