Clayton Kershaw Wuz Robbed
Dave Roberts will earn $6.5 million this year to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers, a job he has held for seven years with considerable success.
He has, for instance, won a World Series. Actually, Roberts has won two World Series if you count his stolen base when he was playing for the Red Sox against the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. That stolen base propelled Boston to stun the Yankees and go on to win its first World Series since 1918. It has nothing to do with his success managing the Dodgers, but it deserves mention anyway because it was the best stolen base ever.
Anyhow, Roberts is by virtually all measures qualified for the high-stakes job of managing an expensive Major League baseball team.
But that doesn’t mean he always gets it right. On Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota he got it wrong.
What happened, as the baseball world knows, is that Roberts took his starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw out of a game in which Kershaw had thrown seven perfect innings, retiring 21 Minnesota Twins with 13 strikeouts.
He was six outs away from a perfect game, an achievement recorded exactly 23 times in the history of Major League Baseball.
And Roberts said nah, he’s thrown enough pitches for one day. Good job, Clayton, take a seat.
Now there’s no guarantee that if Kershaw had stayed in the game, he would have completed the perfect game.
Back to the history of baseball, there have been 139 games in which a pitcher was perfect through the first seven innings.
Eighty-seven of those were broken up in the eighth inning. Another 29 were broken up in the ninth inning. That leaves the 23 that survived, which is about 16.6%, or a one-in-six chance.
That proves, as if it needed proof, how fiendishly difficult it is to throw a perfect game, — which in turn confirms what a sparkling diamond of a moment it creates.
Baseball, as much as any sport and more than many, is built on moments, with a legacy of lore passed down from generations long departed. Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech. Hank Aaron’s 715th home run. Derek Jeter’s flip. Bill Mazeroski’s home run. Reggie Jackson’s three in a row. Ron Swoboda’s diving catch. Bill Buckner’s error. Kirk Gibson beating Dennis Eckersley. Goose Gossage popping up Yastrzemski. Don Larsen’s perfect game. Each team and each fan has a shelf lined with moments. It’s one of the reasons and ways baseball bonded with America.
In 2022 it’s no secret that bond has frayed. Baseball has slid down in the national sports conversation, trailing football and probably basketball. There are a hundred reasons for this, some avoidable and some not, but no one in baseball can argue that the game doesn’t need personality and buzz — reminders why for so long it really was the National Pastime.
A perfect game from Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t have solved baseball’s bigger problems. It still would have been a spark for a game that spent the winter locked down with the wider sports world not much caring. It would have spun today’s spotlight to baseball.
Okay, to a degree the decision to remove Kershaw still did swing the spotlight, except instead of reminding everyone that Clayton Kershaw is a great pitcher, it invited a shake of the head and a fleeting chuckle, as in “Who would do that?”
As noted earlier, Dave Roberts isn’t dumb. He knew exactly how rare a moment Kershaw had pitched himself to the brink of.
He also knew Kershaw has had multiple pitching-related injuries the last several seasons. He missed the whole second half of last season with an arm injury, and he only began throwing seriously during this year’s lockout-abbreviated spring training.
Kershaw had thrown 80 pitches Wednesday, and while that’s wonderfully economical for seven innings, it’s more than he had thrown a game in months.
Roberts didn’t want to risk Kershaw potentially reinjuring his arm, which would have serious consequences for a team that already is scrambling for starting pitchers. He figured the Dodgers could more safely win this game, which was the task at hand, with relief pitchers.
Kershaw defended Roberts’s decision, saying that the long-term needs of the team superseded any personal achievement.
It was a classy response from a guy who’s always been classy. It’s hard to believe, however, that it wasn’t also a case of “what else is he going to say.”
It’s also hard to believe that an elite athlete as ultra-competitive as Kershaw wouldn’t relish the chance to do what only 23 other pitchers in baseball history have done.
Terrific as Kershaw has been over the past dozen years, he has thrown just one no-hitter, back in 2014. To get to the late innings with a chance at a no-hitter, never mind a perfect game, requires an alignment of rare forces, including great pitching stuff and luck. It almost never happens, which is why it is so savored when it does.
Dave Roberts’s job, of course, is not to burn moments into baseball legend, not to maximize the chance that an April afternoon in Minnesota could become one of those fabled moments about which fans years from now could say, “I was there,” or “I saw it.” Roberts’s job is to win as many baseball games as possible over the course of a 162-game season.
But gosh darn it, this is Clayton Kershaw. He’s one of the two or three best Dodgers pitchers ever, and one of the best pitchers of the 21st century. He’s going to have his number retired. He’s going to the Hall of Fame.
Dave Roberts shouldn’t have thrown away his shot.