Look, I understand the arguments and the rationale. Clayton Kershaw is coming off an injury-plagued season and he didn’t even have a proper spring training to prepare for this season. He’s 34 and hasn’t had a 200-inning season since 2015.
Dave Roberts lifted him as he had a perfect game going, while striking 13 batters in 7 innings. He had thrown 80 pitches. Kershaw agreed with the decision:
“Blame it on the lockout. Blame it on my not picking up a baseball until January. … It was time.”
Kershaw is a good soldier, a lifelong Dodger who was happy to return after an injury ruined his chance of helping the Dodgers repeat as World Champions. Roberts is a manager who must look at the big picture, it’s his job. But this game is bigger than the Dodgers’ season.
That’s a stunning sentence, but it’s true.
There are just 24 perfect games in baseball history. There are just 11 games in which a pitcher struck out 19 or more batters in a nine-inning game. Kershaw had a chance to do BOTH. The record for most strikeouts in a perfect game is 14, by Sandy Koufax and Matt Cain.
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This is an all-time great pitcher, one nearly as dominant in his time as Koufax was in his, with a chance to pitch THE GREATEST GAME OF ALL TIME. If it was just a no-hitter? Pffft, lift him in the fifth after 50 pitches. Kershaw had the rap of not being a big postseason pitcher. Couldn’t win the big one as a much lesser pitcher like Madison Bumgarner piled up rings and the Astros cheated him out of one. He finally got his ring in 2020, but this game could have been the gold-plated cherry on top.
Kerry Wood had a 20-strikeout, no-walk game as a 20-year-old in 1998. He gave up one hit, a cheap one at that, and hit a batter. It’s a very good candidate for THE BEST GAME EVER PITCHED. People who were there will remember it the rest of their lives, as will the millions who watched it on ESPN. Wood’s career didn’t live up to his early promise, but years from now, that game will be remembered. More people will remember Kerry Wood than Mike Mussina or Jim Kaat or half the nondescript pitchers getting into the Hall of Fame these days.
Kershaw is a guy worthy of that, deserving of that kind of legacy. History matters, legacies matter, and what fans want matters.
History is important, especially in baseball. And there’s not another sport in which this would happen. If Tom Brady has 600 yards passing and seven touchdowns in a 49-0 game, he’s going out there for a shot at a record-breaking eighth. If Joel Embiid, brilliant and brittle as he is, has 80 points early in the fourth quarter, he’s staying out there to try to get 100. Are you trying to say 45-year-old men and Joel Embiid aren’t injury risks?
And all of this babying of pitchers seems to do very little in the way of preventing injuries. Pitchers have been given an increasingly lighter workload for oh…about 150 years. Pitchers still get hurt. Jacob deGrom, a guy who could challenge Kershaw as the GOAT of this generation, had one game in 2021 where he threw more than 100 pitches, and he couldn’t get past 5 innings in spring training.
This is not about how much tougher pitchers were back in the day. Every plate appearance is a marathon these days, and there are no easy outs — everyone in almost any lineup can hit the ball out of the park. But baseball needs stars to be allowed to be stars. People want to watch Kershaw battle Juan Soto and Bryce Harper four times a game, not twice before handing the ball over to one of the cast of thousands in the bullpen.
That’s baseball, Suzyn, I guess. What a shame.