Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda flirts, but history is a tease

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The first sign came after Hiroki Kuroda had retired the Atlanta Braves in order in the seventh inning.

With the Dodgers pitcher only six outs from a perfect game Monday night at Dodger Stadium, the fans realized the potential significance of what was unfolding and delivered a standing ovation.

When Mark Teixeira stepped to the plate to lead off the eighth inning, the fans again roared as Kuroda fired strike one, then strike two. Kuroda knew there was still a way to go.

“I’ve been in similar situations before,” he would later say through an interpreter, “and I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.”

It wasn’t. Teixeira eventually ripped Kuroda’s 2-and-2 pitch into the right-field corner for a double that prevented the right-hander from etching his name into Dodgers lore alongside Sandy Koufax, the only player in franchise history to throw a perfect game.

But it was hard to find any notable flaws in a one-hitter that lifted the Dodgers to a 3-0 victory and into a tie with Arizona atop the National League West despite still residing one game below .500.

“It’s very strange,” said Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, whose team has won six of seven games this month.

Torre, who had witnessed perfect games thrown by David Wells and David Cone as manager of the New York Yankees, described Kuroda’s 91-pitch shutout as “about as robotic as you’ll see a pitcher throw one strike after another.”

Kuroda (5-6) struck out six batters, walked none and threw 61 pitches for strikes. After retiring Gregor Blanco for the game’s final out, Kuroda tipped his cap on his way off the field. The fans roared once again after the division standings were displayed on an outfield scoreboard.

“I don’t think there’s anything different that I did today,” said Kuroda, who owns two of the Dodgers’ three shutouts this season and has pitched 16 consecutive scoreless innings in two starts since coming off the disabled list.

Blanco nearly broke up Kuroda’s perfect game leading off the seventh with a bunt that required a terrific barehanded play by third baseman Blake DeWitt, who fired to first base just in time to get the speedy runner.

Teixeira, whose hit came on a high slider, eventually reached third base in the eighth after tagging up on Brian McCann’s fly out, but Kuroda got Kelly Johnson to pop up and Mark Kotsay to ground out to end the inning.

“The most important thing is that I didn’t allow a run in that inning,” Kuroda said.

Shortstop Angel Berroa, a ninth-inning defensive replacement for Nomar Garciaparra, helped preserve the Dodgers’ first one-hitter since Derek Lowe pitched one on Aug. 31, 2005. Berroa fielded Greg Norton’s grounder on the grass in shallow left field and fired to first for the second-to-last out.

Garciaparra provided Kuroda with all the run support he needed with a two-run homer in the fifth off Jorge Campillo (3-4). Garciaparra said that with Kuroda cutting through the Braves lineup, the hitters were “just thinking, ‘All right, we’ve got to get a run for him.’ ”

And so Garciaparra provided two, which was more than enough for Kuroda.

“There’s not enough you can say about what he did tonight,” Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. “I’m still amazed. He was staying aggressive, throwing a lot of pitches for strikes and keeping his pitch count down.

“I had a bunch of hitters come up to the plate and say, ‘Man, he’s nasty. What’s going on?’ ”

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