Kershaw's gem among game's best no-hitters
Using power, two unhittable breaking pitches, lefty racks up career-high 15 Ks
LOS ANGELES -- That, in case you were wondering, is why Clayton Kershaw makes the big, big bucks.
Baseball's close-to-perfect pitcher was as close to perfect as you can get on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. In a performance that belongs in the pantheon with the best in the game's history, Kershaw delivered his first no-hitter in dispatching the Rockies, 8-0, with 15 strikeouts. His perfect-game bid ended with shortstop Hanley Ramirez's seventh-inning throwing error.
Only Nolan Ryan -- the king of no-hitters with seven, three more than Sandy Koufax -- has struck out more men in a no-hitter, fanning 17 Tigers in 1973 and 16 Blue Jays 18 years later in his final no-hitter.
Kershaw's flawless masterpiece ended with Corey Dickerson flailing at a slider for strikeout No. 15, a career high on a career night for the 26-year-old lefty from Dallas. Dickerson, leading off the seventh inning, had been the only Rockies player to reach safely on Ramirez's throwing error.
Matching the great Warren Spahn's 15 strikeouts in 1960 for the most by a lefty in a no-hitter, Kershaw's mastery naturally evoked images of mentor Koufax, who produced four of the franchise's 22 no-hitters and its lone perfect game on Sept. 9, 1965, against the Cubs at Dodger Stadium. Koufax struck out 14 that night.
Kershaw, No. 22, looked for all the world like No. 32 of yore, dominating hitters with power and two virtually unhittable breaking pitches, a darting slider and big, slow curveball.
"Nobody deserves it more than him," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of his ace.
What Kershaw had over Ryan, the Express, was his efficiency in issuing no walks.
On July 15, 1973, pitching for the Angels, Ryan punched out 17 Tigers in Detroit while walking four in his second no-hitter of the season. He'd blown away the Royals in Kansas City exactly two months earlier with 12 strikeouts and three walks. In his May 1, 1991, no-hitter for the Rangers against Toronto in Texas, Ryan issued two walks while striking out 16.
Ramirez's misplay came as he charged Dickerson's bouncer over the mound, throwing wildly on the move past Adrian Gonzalez at first base. With characteristic grace, Kershaw handed Ramirez his cap, which had come off as he tried to make the play, and assured his teammate everything was cool.
The man with the $215 million contract spread over seven years had everything under perfect control.
For Dodgers faithful of a certain age, Kershaw's effort evoked memories of another lefty's flirtation with perfection.
On June 27, 1980, Jerry Reuss retired 27 of 28 Giants he faced at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. A first-inning error by shortstop Bill Russell on Jack Clark's ground ball gave the Giants their lone baserunner.
As he met the press in the afterglow, Reuss expressed disbelief when a reporter asked if he was disappointed in not achieving the perfect game.
"I just threw a no-hitter!" Reuss, 31 at the time, said. "What could be a bigger thrill? I haven't pitched in the World Series yet."
Reuss, striking out only two hitters, leaned more heavily on his defense that night than Kershaw did in taking care of all but 12 of the outs by himself, working quickly and in rhythm with catcher A.J. Ellis.
There was another moment of anxiety in that seventh inning after the error by Ramirez, who was cleared to play after getting his right ring finger in the way of a ball struck by Dickerson on Tuesday night.
After striking out Brandon Barnes for the first out of the seventh, Kershaw faced Troy Tulowitzki, at .356 the leading hitter in the Majors. Tulo pulled a sharp ground ball between third baseman Miguel Rojas and the bag. Backhanding the bullet, his momentum carrying him into foul territory, Rojas unleashed a throw that Gonzalez lifted deftly out of the dirt for the out.
Kershaw froze Wilin Rosario with a 74-mph curveball to close out the seventh.
Kershaw's last moment of anxiety came with one down in the eighth when a line drive off the bat of Josh Rutledge hooked foul behind third base. Rutledge struck out on a sweeping curve.
Only 28 of Kershaw's 107 pitches were out of the strike zone, a demonstration of total command.
All but one of Kershaw's strikeouts came with breaking balls -- eight on sliders, six on curveballs.
Kershaw's no-hitter was the second in the Majors this season, both by Dodgers. They nearly authored back-to-back gems in May.
After Josh Beckett authored his first career no-hitter in Philadelphia on May 25, the club returned home and watched Hyun-Jin Ryu dispatch the first 21 Reds he faced before Todd Frazier ended the southpaw's run at perfection with a double leading off the eighth. Ryu faced three more hitters, settling for a 4-3 victory.
With Kershaw and Zack Greinke fronting a rotation that could be baseball's best, the Dodgers are armed for another midsummer charge.
The defending National League West champions have closed to within four games of the struggling Giants. While another magical 42-8 romp might be a stretch, the pieces appear to be falling into place nicely now that Matt Kemp has joined the party offensively in support of Yasiel Puig and catalyst Dee Gordon.
The National League's Cy Young Award winner in 2011 and '13 and Majors' ERA leader the past three season, Kershaw started the season slowly with a trip to the disabled list. Healthy and hearty, the Dodgers' ace is looking once again like the best of the best.
Any questions about Kershaw's place atop the mountain should be addressed to the Rockies.