Joe Torre made a lot of controversial calls during his 12 years with the New York Yankees. And for most of the last two weeks with the Dodgers, he has been questioned daily about the Manny Ramirez affair.
But with Clayton Kershaw’s pitch count rising as he crept closer to a no-hitter Sunday, Torre was staring down one of the most difficult decisions a manager can face: whether to take a pitcher out of the game when he hasn’t given up a hit.
“Well,” Torre said to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, “that’s one way I can stop the Manny questions.”
The Florida Marlins’ Cody Ross made the decision moot, however, doubling into the left-center gap leading off the eighth inning to end the no-hitter and Kershaw’s day.
And after the Dodgers’ bullpen closed out a 12-5 win over the Marlins with a shaky ninth that featured a grand slam from Ross, Torre confessed he still hadn’t decided what to do.
“You get to a point where you can see he’s laboring, then you have to be careful not to get him hurt,” Torre said of Kershaw, who threw a career-high 112 pitches. “I thought he had enough left. But I never had to make that decision.”
Nor did Kershaw have to lobby for one -- though he wondered afterward why the subject had even come up.
“If there’s a no-hitter involved, I don’t think the pitch count matters,” said Kershaw, who was making only his 29th big league start. “You stay in there until you give up a hit. I think that’s kind of how it works.”
By the third inning, how long Kershaw and the no-hitter would last was just about the only drama the game had left. With Juan Pierre singling and scoring in the first and doubling in two runs in the third and with Juan Castro leading off the second with a home run, the Dodgers were up 6-0 before Kershaw made his first full pass through the Marlins’ lineup.
Pierre would add a run-scoring double in the ninth, giving him four three-hit games in his last eight starts. And in 10 games since taking over for Ramirez, Pierre has hit .465 with a .531 on-base percentage, seven doubles, 11 runs, nine RBIs and six steals.
In Ramirez’s last 10 games he hit .333 with a .489 OBP, six doubles, seven RBIs and eight runs.
In fact, the Dodgers’ offense was so prolific it may have played a role in ending the no-hitter.
After Kershaw struck out the side in the seventh, hitting 95 mph on the radar gun with his last pitch, he had to sit through a four-run rally in the top of the eighth.
That, he acknowledged, seemed to take something off his fastball and Ross took advantage, driving his fourth pitch of the inning into left-center for a double.
“It definitely is the ultimate embarrassment getting no-hit,” Ross said. “Any time you get no-hit you are in the record books for a long time. You don’t want to be on the lineup card in the picture framed inside of the pitcher’s house.”
It’s unlikely Kershaw was thinking about the history books when the day started. He probably would have been happy saving his place in the rotation after struggling through his third consecutive poor road start last week in Philadelphia, one that left him 0-3 with a 9.47 ERA away from Dodger Stadium.
But after a 25-minute closed-door meeting in which Torre and Honeycutt stressed the importance of making adjustments and letting his natural abilities take over, Kershaw did some fine-tuning of his mechanics in the bullpen.
He also varied his repertoire Sunday, mixing in more changeups with his curve and fastball, and the result was a memorable outing for the left-hander, who threw two no-hitters his senior year in high school -- all the way back in 2006.
And though he missed another one this time, Torre said this probably won’t be the last time he’ll have to decide whether to leave Kershaw in the game with a no-hitter in progress.
“He’s got such electric stuff,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anybody with his poise at his age.”
And then Torre dropped the ultimate compliment for any lefty who has ever worn a Dodgers uniform by comparing him to Sandy Koufax -- who, by the way, threw four no-hitters.
“He’s got the Koufax dominance,” Torre said.