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Column: Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw realizes bigger things are ahead

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Clayton Kershaw was faraway from the sport after seven innings regardless of having not allowed a baserunner.

Good.

Dave Roberts pulled his pitcher regardless that he was two innings from reaching a baseball feat matched by solely 23 pitchers in main league historical past.

Good.

In a 7-0 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Minneapolis’ frigid Goal Subject on Wednesday afternoon, the Dodgers eschewed a second of particular person glory for an eventual alternative at group greatness.

Significantly, is there something extra good?

Although nationwide baseball figures wept and gnashed over the Dodgers’ choice to not permit Kershaw to pursue the ultimate six outs after retiring the primary 21 Twins on solely 80 pitches — “what’s the sport coming to?” tweeted an apoplectic Reggie Jackson — Dodgers followers ought to have fun.

Lower than per week into the 2022 season, your group already has its sights set squarely on October. They’re not going to be suckered by a headline in April. They’re not going to danger sacrificing six months of well being for one afternoon of buzz. They learn about good endings, they usually knew they’re discovered not within the fifth recreation within the spring, however in a seventh recreation within the fall.

This was not about Clayton Kershaw’s first begin of the season. This was about his closing begin of the season.

“Greater issues, man,” Kershaw advised reporters afterward. “Greater issues.”

When the Dodgers step on to the Dodger Stadium third-base line for pregame introductions in Thursday night time’s residence opener towards the Cincinnati Reds, Kershaw ought to obtain an even-louder-than-normal ovation for the selflessness he confirmed in willingly stepping away from what might have been a memorable second of non-public achievement. Roberts also needs to obtain an ovation for being prepared to just accept the warmth for placing the group forward of the participant.

“There’s lots of people which can be cheering for the Dodgers, not solely only for in the present day and Clayton to throw a no-hitter, however for the Dodgers to win the World Collection,” Roberts advised reporters. “For us to try this, we’d like him wholesome.”

Critics of Roberts will angrily notice the unbelievable stat that he has managed the one two pitchers in historical past to be pulled from an ideal recreation after seven innings — Wealthy Hill in 2016, and Kershaw on Wednesday. However whereas the choice on Hill was questionable — it was late within the season and Hill didn’t need to go away the mound — anyone who carefully follows the Dodgers absolutely understands that the Kershaw choice was a no brainer.

“We’re right here to win and this was the correct alternative,” Kershaw mentioned.

The story of Wednesday truly started final October, when Kershaw left a recreation towards the Milwaukee Brewers due to elbow discomfort that ended his season.

Right here’s what appeared on this column then:

“When Clayton Kershaw trudged off the mound within the second inning Friday night time due to left forearm discomfort, it might have been simply one other painful chapter within the latest saga of a Corridor of Fame Dodger in bodily decline.

“Or it might have been goodbye.”

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws during the sixth inning against the Minnesota Twins.

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws in the course of the sixth inning towards the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in Minneapolis.

(Craig Lassig / Related Press)

Some Dodgers insiders thought his profession is likely to be over. There was speak of surgical procedure. There have been whispers about retirement. Even when he got here again to the Dodgers, no one actually thought he’d be prepared for the beginning of this season. Any Kershaw innings earlier than Might would have been thought of a blessing.

Despite the fact that he appeared surprisingly sturdy this spring, he was pushed again to the fifth starter within the rotation and given the ultimate opening season slot in Minnesota. He could be introduced alongside slowly. He could be handled rigorously. His workload could be monitored carefully. Everybody held their breath.

Then he took the mound and was actually unhitable.

Twenty-one batters, 13 strikeouts. Twenty-seven swings, 17 misses. In his first begin. At age 34. After he was supposedly completed. In his 15 years right here, he has maybe by no means been extra outstanding.

“He was cruising,” his catcher Austin Barnes mentioned. “He threw the ball actually, rather well.”

The ultimate out within the seventh was a pointy grounder by Gio Urshela that was niftily picked up on a brief hop by a shifted Gavin Lux. The ball was smoked. Kershaw knew it was time. Earlier than the eighth, he stayed within the dugout with a smile. If he didn’t agree with the choice, he would have put up a combat. He clearly didn’t.

Like he mentioned, greater issues.

“I knew stepping into that my pitch depend wasn’t going to be 100, not to mention 90 or no matter,” he mentioned, later including, “Blame it on the lockout. Blame it on me not selecting up a baseball till January. My slider was horrible the final two innings. It didn’t have the chew. It was time.”

For another organizations, the prospect at making historical past could be too nice to withstand.

Take the New York Mets in 2012, when Johan Santana was left on the mound to throw an untenable 134 pitches in authoring the primary no-hitter in franchise historical past. It’s no coincidence that, after that season, Santana by no means pitched within the main leagues once more.

The Mets wanted that. The Dodgers don’t. They’re not taking part in for recollections, they’re taking part in for rings. They’re taking part in for a World Collection championship which may not be potential with out a wholesome Corridor of Fame pitcher.

Clayton Kershaw is aware of this, and thus sacrificed a spot within the baseball document books for the nice of his group’s higher objectives. He turned a cliché right into a fact. He performed for the title on the entrance of his jersey, not the title on the again.

On a day he was denied perfection, he has maybe by no means been extra good.