'Vintage' Kershaw falls 6 outs shy of perfection

July 16th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- Before the opener of the Freeway Series, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts joked that he was hoping to get a call on Friday from Braves skipper Brian Snitker, letting him know that Clayton Kershaw was going to be the starter for the National League in Tuesday's All-Star Game.

Kershaw, of course, has never started a Midsummer Classic. It’s one of the few things missing in his illustrious career. By the end of the night, though, Kershaw had the 44,648 people in attendance at Angel Stadium believing he was going to accomplish another first.

Kershaw flirted with a perfect game for the second time this season, but his bid at another historic milestone fell six outs short on a Luis Rengifo leadoff double in the eighth inning of the Dodgers’ 9-1 win over the Angels on Friday.

It was the second time this season Kershaw completed seven perfect innings. The last one came in his first start of the season against the Twins when he wasn’t fully built up. Kershaw became the only pitcher in the last 40 years to have a perfect game through at least seven innings twice in the same season.

“I really wanted to do it,” Kershaw said. “I think it would have been really fun for everybody involved, just the way everybody played tonight. … This would have been a really big team perfect game if it happened. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, but good night overall.”

Kershaw was as efficient as he’s been all season on Friday, needing just 59 pitches to get through six innings. Only Brandon Marsh managed to get into a three-ball count, but Kershaw ultimately won the battle with a strikeout to end the third.

On the few mistakes Kershaw made, his defense was there to back him up. In the fourth, Justin Turner robbed Michael Stefanic of a double down the line, making a spectacular diving grab and completing it with a strong throw to Freddie Freeman, who handled a tough in-between hop at first base. 

Even that early in the game, Roberts said he knew Kershaw had a chance at history.

“You can sense it,” Roberts said. “He wasn’t fighting anything tonight. He was efficient. We’re making plays, so you knew that he was going to give himself a chance. It was just a matter of if we can get a little lucky, but Rengifo put a nice swing on it.”

For Kershaw and his teammates, the moment started to feel real around the sixth inning. In the fifth, Hanser Alberto saved a single by snaring a Jared Walsh liner deep in the shift. In the seventh, Trea Turner joined the highlight reel with a stellar play of his own at short that again robbed Stefanic.

“That was a vintage Kershaw performance,” said Justin Turner. “He had all his pitches working, he had his pitch count and there was a moment in the middle of the game where you know what’s going on and we had a really good feeling about it. That was dominance right there.”

The biggest challenge for Kershaw appeared to be navigating the top of the Angels' lineup for the third time in the seventh. But perhaps the loudest cheer of the night came when Kershaw struck out reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani swinging on his signature curveball. With every out, the buzz around the ballpark grew. As they usually do, Dodger fans were well represented in Anaheim.

At one point, however, even the Angels fans realized they were witnessing one of the best pitchers of all time trying to accomplish something only 23 other Major Leaguers have done.

“When he’s out there throwing a perfect game, it’s kinda crazy to watch and amazing,” said Angels starter Patrick Sandoval. “He’s a Hall of Famer and it’s incredible what he does.”

Over the last few months, Kershaw has been open about letting himself enjoy the moments a little more than he did earlier in his career. After all, just last October, Kershaw’s future was in doubt. He walked off the Dodger Stadium mound with a hurt left elbow, carrying the ball in his hand all the way into the clubhouse.

Had Kershaw’s injury been worse, he might’ve called it a career. Instead, Kershaw, who didn’t pick up a baseball until January as he recovered, is still one of the best pitchers in the Majors.

He’ll get a chance to show that on Tuesday when Dodger Stadium, the only place Kershaw has called home as a big leaguer, hosts the Midsummer Classic.

“He’s a competitor out there,” said Austin Barnes. “He prepares well and he doesn’t lose the feel of the game. I think that’s the most important thing. I think that’s what separates him from other pitchers.”