Almost perfect: Clayton Kershaw draws closer to Sandy Koufax with dominant no-hitter

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

Clayton Kershaw threw a no-hitter Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, the no-hitter everyone suspected was in that gifted left arm, the no-hitter everyone knew was in that bright, bright future.

The best pitcher in the game since he was 23 years old, Kershaw, now 26, struck out 15 hitters, a career high. He chased 95-mph fastballs with disappearing sliders and feathery curveballs, and by the time he threw his arms in the air and welcomed catcher A.J. Ellis to the mound, when the Colorado Rockies had come and gone with what fight they had, the no-hitter – the 22nd by a Dodger and the second in 3½ weeks – was his.

Over 107 pitches, Kershaw carved through 28 Colorado Rockies in what would become an 8-0 win. One man reached base, that on a seventh-inning throwing error by shortstop Hanley Ramirez, just that close to a perfect game. When the play was over, Kershaw gathered Ramirez's cap from the infield grass, handed it to his shortstop, and retired the next nine Rockies.

"I'm so amazed," Kershaw said on the field postgame. "It was just so much fun I can't explain it."

He is in the first season of a seven-year, $215 million contract. He is in the seventh season of a career that already borders on legendary. He'd had signature starts. He'd been dominant over three hours. He'd won in October. He had not done this, this being the no-hitter, the just slightly imperfect perfect game, with Vin Scully narrating, with wife Ellen smiling proudly from inside the ballpark, with every person in the stadium standing and shouting and fully expecting Kershaw to finish it.

Clayton Kershaw struck out 15 Rockies in his no-hitter. (AP)
Clayton Kershaw struck out 15 Rockies in his no-hitter. (AP)

He struck out Corey Dickerson on a slider that Dickerson barely saw, that ran away from the end of his bat.

"He's done it," Scully said.

Kershaw smiled broadly and dropped his glove. His teammates poured from the dugout. Ellis, perhaps his best friend on the team, met him with a bear hug. Minutes later, Ellis handed Kershaw the baseball. Kershaw tucked it in his left back pocket.

"As far as individual games go, this was pretty special," he said. "I'll remember it the rest of my life."

Nolan Ryan struck out 17 batters in a no-hitter. He struck out 16 in another. Warren Spahn, like Kershaw a lefty, struck out 15 in a no-hitter. That's the list of pitchers who'd struck out so many in a no-hitter. No pitcher had struck out 15 and issued no walks. Only Kershaw, in the 192nd start of his career.

Kershaw went to a three-ball count on one hitter. He threw 22 of 28 first-pitch strikes. Of those 107 pitches, 79 were strikes. Of the 13 balls put in play, one had a chance to be a hit, and in the seventh inning third baseman Miguel Rojas fielded the hard grounder near the foul line and threw out Troy Tulowitzki by less than a step.

In a career that has appeared to put him in lockstep with Sandy Koufax, Kershaw has resisted the comparisons. The two are, however, infinitely fond of one another. And the no-hitter, a single misguided throw from a perfect game, will serve only to further the sense among older Dodger fans they'd seen something like this before.

Koufax threw four no-hitters, one of them perfect. Kershaw would be satisfied with what came along Wednesday. The lone baserunner belonged to the shortstop Ramirez, who the night before had taken a grounder off his right hand. There was some question whether Ramirez would – or could – play against the Rockies. In the seventh, he charged a two-hopper by Dickerson, gathered it on the grass, then pulled the throw past Adrian Gonzalez at first base. Dickerson was at second base.

Kershaw kept setting down one Rockie after another, however. The best offensive team in the game – though just average on the road – had little chance.

Kershaw got a wet congratulations from teammates after his no-hitter. (AP)
Kershaw got a wet congratulations from teammates after his no-hitter. (AP)

On May 25, Josh Beckett threw a no-hitter in Philadelphia. Asked about it a day later, Kershaw grinned and said, "It's not why we play the game, but you're just happy for the game."

So, on a cool night at Dodger Stadium, following a long hug from Beckett himself, Kershaw laughed and said, "Beckett told me he's going to teach me how to do that."

Two Cy Young Awards in, 84 wins in, three ERA titles in, Kershaw had spent all of April and the first five days of May on the disabled list. But he is strong again.

The no-hitter was the first at Dodger Stadium since June 2008, when the Los Angeles Angels combined for one over eight innings, and the first by an individual pitcher since Ramon Martinez's in 1995. The Rockies were no-hit for the first time since 1996, by Hideo Nomo.

When it was over, when Kershaw nodded at Ellis' request for a slider, and Dickerson swung through it, and Vin Scully declared it done, and the crowd's cheers carried Kershaw from the mound, there was a sense the game – Kershaw's game – had indeed been great. But then, maybe, there was a feeling that everyone suspected it was coming. The future had come.

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