Clayton Kershaw flirted with a perfect game by retiring his first 21 batters against an American League team. No, not his start on a cold Minnesota day on April 13. This was Friday night in Anaheim, and this time a much more stretched-out Kershaw was allowed to keep going.
The perfect game bid ended almost immediately in the eighth inning, with Luis Rengifo lining his fourth pitch of the frame for a leadoff double. Pitching from the stretch proved no problem for Kershaw, who retired the next three batters in order to keep Rengifo stranded and preserve his scoreless start.
With a 9-0 lead and the perfect game and no-hitter both gone, Kershaw received hugs and congratulations from just about everyone in the first base dugout at Angel Stadium, his night over. His first complete game since July 9, 2017 will have to wait, or perhaps it won’t come at all. But what we got was a complete performance by a legend with plenty still left in the tank.
Kershaw was efficient with just 89 pitches, just the sixth time in his career he got through eight innings with such a low odometer reading. In four of those games he pitched nine innings.
Kershaw also pitched 7⅔ innings last weekend against the Cubs, making this the first time Kershaw lasted into the eighth inning in consecutive starts since May 10-15, 2016. He’s gone at least seven innings in three straight starts for the first time since a four-start stretch in 2018. Kershaw has reentered the rarefied air in which he had residence for several years.
This is the good stuff.
Getting through seven perfect innings doesn’t happen all that often, and Kershaw’s done it twice in a little over three months. He’s the first pitcher in the last 62 seasons to have two such starts in a single season, per ESPN Stats & Info.
By game score, a stat devised by Bill James four decades ago to try to determine pitcher effectiveness, Kershaw had an 86 on Friday against the Angels, tied for the 10th-best game score by any MLB pitcher in 2022. Kershaw’s April 13 start in Minnesota, in which he struck out 13 in seven perfect innings, his game score of 90 is the third-best this season.
Clayton Kershaw is currently perfect through 7 IP after being perfect through 7 IP on April 13.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 16, 2022
He is the only pitcher in the Expansion era (since 1961) to be perfect through 7 IP multiple times in a season. h/t @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/CcAhOmoDQI
Walker Buehler’s 10-strikeout shutout in Arizona on April 25 was a 91 game score, second-best this season, for comparison.
Besides Kershaw, the only other MLB pitcher with two game scores of at least 85 is Astros right-hander Cristian Javier, doing so back-to-back about two weeks ago.
Kershaw has 23 career games with a game score of at least 85, counting the regular season and playoffs. Before the two games this year, the only time in the previous four seasons Kershaw had such a start was his Game 2 start in the 2020 wild card series against the Brewers, a 13-strikeout, eight-scoreless-innings performance that produced an 88 game score.
These starts fit right in with the best of Kershaw’s career, which is remarkable considering just how great a career he’s had.
More on Kershaw
- Dave Roberts on Kershaw’s start, from Juan Toribio at MLB.com: “He wasn’t fighting anything tonight. He was efficient. We’re making plays, so you knew that he was going to give himself a chance.”
- Excellent defensive plays backed Kershaw’s pursuit of perfection, including stellar plays by Justin Turner, Trea Turner, and Hanser Alberto. Said Kershaw, from Fabian Ardaya’s game story at The Athletic: “Honestly, I probably should’ve given up four or five hits before they got that hit. It was a lot of factors that this would have been a really big team perfect game if it happened.”
- Austin Barnes, who has caught nine of Kershaw’s dozen starts this season, said of his battery mate, per Mike DiGiovanna at the Los Angeles Times, “He’s like a train, man. He just keeps going after hitters.”
- “That was a vintage Kershaw performance,” Justin Turner said, from Greg Beacham’s Associated Press game story. “There’s a point in the middle of the game where you know what’s going on, and we had a really good feeling about it. That was dominance right there.”