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No-hitters are as good as it gets in sports

Kershaw's no-no linked to first in big league history 138 years earlier @RichardJustice

It was buried a few sentences down in the game story, after the mention of this being a third consecutive shutout for the St. Louis Brown Stockings and the contest essentially being decided by some impressive offensive exploits in the first two innings.

There was a large, spirited crowd on hand -- a few hundred -- and maybe that contributed to the shaky fielding by the opposition. Those two things were also considered more important at the time than the thing that would make the game significant 138 years later.

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Finally, though, dropped right into the middle of the article, there's the nugget of news that lingers to this day. Here's how the St. Louis Globe-Democrat described it a day later in the edition of July 16, 1876, according to the terrific site:

"For the first time in the annals of the League, nine innings were played without a single base hit being placed to the credit of one of the teams."

There you go. Pretty simple, huh? In an era of colorful writing and minimal reporting, it just wasn't considered all that big a deal that Brown Stockings right-hander George Washington Bradley threw baseball's first official no-hitter in a 2-0 victory over the Hartford Dark Blues.

Bradley's is the one that's recognized. Another guy, Joe Borden of the Philadelphia White Stockings, had thrown one a year earlier. But because it was in the National Association, which folded after the 1875 season and is not considered a major league, it's not recognized today.

Besides that, poor Mr. Borden never knew he'd done it. He wasn't credited with a no-hitter until 75 years later, when a researcher discovered that two hits in the box score were really walks.

Not that it mattered all that much. It was a completely different game back then. For one thing, the National League in which George Washington Bradley competed saw pitchers differently than we do today.

They threw underhanded from 45 feet and were considered initiators of action rather than the guys who set the tone for everything. They were also considered everyday players.

Bradley started all 64 games the Brown Stockings played in 1876 and pitched -- wait for it -- 573 innings. He won 45 games, led the National League with a 1.23 ERA and tossed 16 shutouts. In that series against Hartford, Bradley got three straight victories by the scores of 2-0, 3-0 and 2-0. (He would lose 40 games three years later while pitching for the Troy Trojans.)

Still, the Globe-Democrat's coverage focused on the defensive play and the hitting. There was less praise for Bradley:

"The Hartford's utterly failed to do anything whatever with Bradley's twisters. Weak infield hits and easy flies were the order of the afternoon on their side, and a chance for an out was rarely missed."

OK, baseball has changed some over the past 138 years. These days, the no-hitter is one of the most exciting things in professional sports. Certainly, there's almost nothing better during the regular season, with the tension and expectation that creeps into hearts and minds as the game unfolds.

Why do teammates stay away from the guy throwing the no-no during games? Why do fans begin to chew on their nails and seem to be in absolute torture?

That's what Clayton Kershaw reminded us Wednesday night. Anxiety grew a pitch at a time, as he got closer and closer. It could be seen on the face of fans at Dodger Stadium and among Kershaw's teammates in the dugout.

Kershaw himself looked like the most relaxed man in the stadium because he simply was at the top of his game. This was the intersection of a great player performing at the highest level, and what can be better than that?

There's also a timelessness to the whole thing. Kershaw set the tone, proceeded at whatever pace he wanted to proceed. He seemed so in control in the early innings that Twitter began speculating on the possibility of a no-hitter.

And then Kershaw did it. His curveball might have been as unhittable as almost any pitch anyone has delivered since Sandy Koufax. Kershaw had command of his fastball, too. And as he sprinted through those last outs, as he closed in on history, he made it look easy.

Kershaw's stuff was so good that the worry was that something weird might happen -- that a looper might fall in, that on a day when he was absolutely dominant, he would not get what he deserved.

This is as good as it gets. Kershaw is the guy who shows up early, works the hardest and appreciates all the gifts he has. He's determined to maximize those gifts with a relentless work ethic and curiosity.

Kershaw is also instantly likeable. And because he's one of the faces of this iconic franchises, because he symbolizes the team's renaissance, he's easy to root for.

Because baseball is timeless, because the players are so accessible and because we're allowed to watch it all unfold -- all the close calls, the whole deal -- no-hitters are all professional sports can deliver.

When Kershaw got his on Wednesday, he threw his arms in the air, dropped his glove and embraced his catcher, A.J. Ellis. Afterward, Ellis wiped away tears as he discussed the experience. Kershaw's teammates hold the pitcher in such esteem that they lined up along the dugout to hear his postgame interview.

Across the field, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki did the same thing. Tulo knew he'd just witnessed something spectacular, something he'll remember for the rest of his life.

Kershaw has been baseball's best pitcher for three years, and he's still a mere 26 years old. He's likely to get better. When the Dodgers signed Kershaw to a record-setting seven-year, $215 million contract during Spring Training, they said he was the living, breathing example of everything they hoped to be as a franchise, both on the field and off.

And so, almost 138 years after George Washington Bradley started it all with his underhand lobs against the Hartford Dark Blues, Kershaw stood in front of 46,069 at Dodger Stadium, with millions more watching on television, and achieved perfection, if not a perfect game.

It was a different kind of perfection than Bradley accomplished, but it was perfection just the same. Baseball has ties that bind that way. Bradley surely would appreciate that part of the deal. He'd also appreciate that there's nothing better in sports than what Kershaw delivered Wednesday night.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Los Angeles Dodgers, George Bradley, Clayton Kershaw