Thursday April 14, 2022
Six Outs from Perfection
Yesterday, in Minnesota, visiting LA Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled his pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, after 7 innings. Kershaw had thrown 80 pitches, struck out 13, walked nobody, and hadn't allowed a hit. None of the Dodgers had made an error and no Twin got on via a dropped third strike. No Twin had gotten on: 21 up and 21 down. Kershaw had a perfect game going.
And he was pulled.
After 7 innings and 80 pitches.
I get the arguments in favor. To the Dodgers and Roberts, a win is a win. You don't get extra points for being perfect. And Kershaw's fragile. He's gone on the IL so many times. You need him for later in the year. You need him for October.
But a perfect game is a bit of magic dropped into our sad world. There have only been 21 perfect games in the modern era—beginning with Cy Young in 1904, adding Addie Joss' in 1908 and Charlie Robertson(?) in 1922; then nothing until Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. Think of the great pitchers who never threw one: Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller. We got three in the swinging '60s (including Sandy Koufax's), none in the '70s when I was beginning to pay attention, three more in the '80s, four in the '90s, and two in the aughts (including Randy Johnson's). Then in the first three years of the 2010s we had five, including King Felix's perfecto on a sunny August afternoon at Safeco Field, and it seemed like it wouldn't be much of a thing anymore. But no, Felix's was the last. Silence for 10 years now. Magic is tough. Perfection is tough.
I doubt he would have done it—those last six outs, man—but I don't know how you don't give him a chance to go for it. “Anyone gets on, you're out.” Just that. Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation, but he's 34 and faltering, he's not going to get more chances. And no Dodger has thrown one since Koufax in '65.
But intead of a chance at magic, at perfection, in came the set-up man, Alex Vesia, who was 26, who'd pitched well last year (2.25 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 40 IP), but was hardly Kershaw. He got a ground out, then gave up a single to Gary Sanchez (of all people) and a walk to Max Kepler, and there went that. But it didn't matter. Even if he and whomever from the Dodger relief corps had retired the next six in a row, it wouldn't have been a perfect game. It would've been a team perfect game and nobody cares about that, the way nobody cares about team no-hitters. Imagine a team homerun: Harmon Killebrew swings, Cesar Tovar runs to third, Rod Carew runs from third to home. Great. Nobody cares.
I should be the last person complaining. Now King Felix still has the last perfecto. And the Twins are already 0-2 in perfect games: Catfish Hunter blanked them in Sept. '68, and David Wells did it in May '98. If they'd been perfected again, they would tie the Rays for the worst record in perfect games.
But it's so indicative of Major League Baseball these days. Here's a chance for greatness, for magic. And ... nah.
7 IP, 0 Hits, 0 Runs, 0 BBs, 13 Ks