Clayton Kershaw’s main goal Wednesday was not to throw a perfect game, though he very well might have if Dodgers manager Dave Roberts hadn’t pulled him after the seventh inning of a 7-0 victory against the Twins.
No, the lefty’s pristine stat line complete with 13 strikeouts was just a byproduct of trying to get his teammates back to their own beds and the sunny California weather as soon as possible since Tuesday’s game finished past midnight because of a rain delay.
“Just go fast,” Kershaw said of his in-game ethos. “It was cold. I think after the game last night, how late it was and the quick turnaround, I knew everybody was grinding except me. I got a good night’s sleep, so I was ready to go.”
Kershaw dispatched Twins batters in one-two-three fashion until he hit 80 pitches in his season debut. With the lockout shortening spring camp, Kershaw was built up to only about 75 pitches and six innings. Roberts consulted him after the sixth, and Kershaw made the call that he wanted to pitch one more before stopping around 80-85 pitches.
The 34-year-old — whose 2021 season ended before the playoffs because of arm pain — said it was a hard decision, especially when factoring in catcher Austin Barnes. Boos rained down from the announced crowd of 17,101 fans, many wearing Dodgers blue, at Target Field when Alex Vesia checked in for the eighth inning.
It might have become the 24th perfect game in MLB history, the first since Felix Hernandez did so for Seattle on Aug. 15, 2012. Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, tossed a no-hitter against Colorado in 2014.
Vesia allowed a Gary Sanchez single in the eighth for the Twins’ only hit; there has never been a combined perfect game in the majors.
“There’s a point where I’ve got to decide, ‘To what end?'” Roberts said. “I’m as big a fan as anyone, and I’m a fan of Clayton and to see a battery of him and Austin to throw a perfect game or a no-hitter, I’m all in. But again, to what end?To what cost?
“… There’s a lot of people that are cheering for the Dodgers, not only just for [this game] and Clayton to throw a no-hitter, but for the Dodgers to win the World Series. For us to do that, we need him healthy.”
Roberts said the decision was actually pretty easy, given the team’s and Kershaw’s long-term goals. That move also didn’t seem to shock the Twins, including manager Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli praised Kershaw’s slider, which did most of his damage given he wasn’t pitching much harder than about 90 mph.
“It’s not about velocity. He has pretty good deception on what he does. His delivery is unique. If you haven’t seen it a bunch, I bet it’s difficult to pick up release point of just where it’s coming out,” Baldelli said . “… It appeared that that slider was just a pitch that, I don’t know if it was difficult to pick up and spin or whatever, but it seemed like the swings looked like they were attacking fastballs, and they were not fastballs. They were sliders.”
Imperfect as it was, LA still took the two-game sweep, putting the Twins at 2-4 in their season-opening homestand. And the Dodgers dominated offensively, hitting four home runs off Twins relievers.
“There’s a lot of people that are cheering for the Dodgers, not only just for [this game] and Clayton to throw a no-hitter, but for the Dodgers to win the World Series. For us to do that, we need him healthy.”
Chris Paddack, who came in a trade from the Padres the day before the season opener, made his Twins debut and went four innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs while striking out three.
Dereck Rodriguez, called up from Class AAA St. Paul before Wednesday’s game, pitched four innings and didn’t allow a hit until the eighth, when he allowed back-to-back-to-back homers from the bottom of the Dodgers lineup. Griffin Jax, another recent call-up, pitched the ninth and gave up a solo homer to Max Muncy.
Defensively, the Twins were also a bit sloppy, with first-inning errors from third baseman Gio Urshela and Paddack when the Dodgers scored twice.
Luckily for the Twins, their performance is not what people will remember from this game.
“We’ve got a couple guys that hit very well,” Urshela said of Kershaw. “And they had no luck.”