Belly up and plant a flag, because there’s no way of settling this debate. Still, it doesn’t mean that an argument can’t be made that Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday provided baseball with its greatest pitching performance.
Not this season, but ever. As in the history of the game.
Impossible to prove? Sure, but not to argue. It’s all subjective, especially when you mix eras and different ballparks. But consider this:
Kershaw no-hit the Rockies while striking out 15 and not walking a single batter.
There have been 283 no-hitters in baseball history, but Kershaw is the only one to have at least 15 strikeouts and no walks.
Only one other pitcher has even thrown a no-hitter with at least 15 strikeouts. Nolan Ryan managed it in three of his record seven no-hitters, but accompanied them with walks of four, eight and two.
Kershaw was a model of precision Wednesday. He needed only 107 pitches. He averaged less than four pitches per batter. Only one batter made it to a three-ball count.
The Dodgers gave him a big early lead and he just kept pounding the strike zone, pitch after dominating pitch. The Rockies weren’t sure what hit them.
He had both his off-speed pitches working in remarkable tandem, and a fastball that hit 94 to 95 mph right into the ninth inning.
“That’s probably the best combination he’s had of his slider and curveball working on the same night,” said catcher A.J. Ellis. “When you got those things going, nights like this are possible.”
There have been some great, dominating games in baseball history. Roger Clemens struck out 20 Mariners on April 29, 1986, but gave up a run on three hits. He struck out 20 again 10 years later in Detroit, but gave up five hits. In terms of pure domination it’s hard to top Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout, no-walk one-hitter against the Astros in 1998.
But Kershaw was dominating and extraordinarily efficient. There was no wasted motion. He went to a three-ball count on only one batter all night, Josh Rutledge in the second. Only 11 other batters even saw a two-ball count.
That’s pitching at its absolute finest.
After career minor-leaguer Miguel Rojas made the only truly great defensive play behind him all night, throwing across the diamond to nip Troy Tulowitzki in the seventh, Kershaw had a no-hitter in his sights. He did not throw one ball to his final six batters.
“You don’t really ever think about doing something like that,” Kershaw said. “You think about winning a World Series or being part of that. As far as individual stuff goes, though, this ranks up there.”
It further fortifies his standing among the great pitchers in the Dodgers’ storied, pitching-rich history. Now along with his two Cy Young awards, he has his first no-hitter. He’s still three behind Sandy Koufax, who also threw his first at 26.
“He’s the best pitcher on the planet right now,” Ellis said. “There’s nobody even close. It’s nights like this that help remind everybody that this guy is a special, once-in-a-generation guy. I’m blown away and blessed that I’ve been asked to catch him during this amazing run he’s on.”
Kershaw’s record seven-year, $215-million contract runs through 2020, so the Dodgers are hoping for a long run.
Having thrown one of the greatest games in history, Kershaw appears to be securing a legacy alongside Koufax, Don Drysdale, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser and Don Newcombe.
“I guess I really haven’t thought of the ramifications of throwing one of these things,” Kershaw said. “It’s definitely special company. I don’t take for granted the history of this or what it means. I definitely understand all that. But as far as individually, though, it’s right up there with winning playoff games and World Series games and all that stuff. It’s pretty cool.”