LOS ANGELES – Clayton Kershaw woke up Thursday morning before the Los Angeles Dodgers’ sold-out home opener at Dodger Stadium, and will be completely honest with you.
He thought about it.
Maybe he thought about it a lot.
The future Hall of Famer had a chance at baseball immortality on Wednesday, and he and manager Dave Roberts persisted, deciding not to push his season debut in Minnesota, even though it meant walking away from the chance to become the 24th pitcher in baseball history to to throw a perfect game.
If it was a no-hitter, no big deal. There are plenty of them – 314 to be exact – including one of him.
But a perfect game?
No one has been thrown since Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in 2012.
Kershaw refuses to guess himself, and Roberts does not regret it, but Kershaw would be lying to you if he did not at least wonder if he should have stayed in the game.
“The only thing I feel bad about,” Kershaw said, “is, if I was a fan, I would like to see someone finish the game.… If I took my son to the game and there was a perfect game going on? is why you come to the games to see something special. So from a fan’s perspective I understand it. I feel bad about it. It’s hard to swallow.
“I wish I could have done it.
“But [Wednesday] was not the day. “
Kershaw, who had drawn all 21 batsmen he faced, with 13 strikeouts, was in 80 places when the seventh inning ended. He hadn’t thrown past five laps and 75 spots all spring. He missed the last six weeks of last season with a sore shoulder and elbow. He did not even take a baseball until January.
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Everything in the world told him he was done for the day against the Minnesota Twins, and it made no sense to risk injury to personal honor, not with a chance of winning perhaps one last World Series.
“Honestly, the way my season ended last year, I could not be a part of October,” Kershaw said, “that’s why I’m here. That’s why I came back to be ready for it. Every The decision we make is aimed at the month of the season. ”
So would he definitely have risked serious injury by pitching a perfect game and throwing at least 110 lanes?
“I could have thrown nine innings and been fine the rest of the season,” Kershaw said. “I could have thrown two laps and get hurt the next day. No one knows.
“But at the moment, it felt like it was the right call for my personal health, the team’s best, and that I was ready in October.
“It all seemed like the right call at the time.”
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Roberts knew it was the right move, saying he could not have lived with himself if Kershaw ended up with arm problems by letting him try the first perfect game of a Dodger since Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax in 1965.
Roberts knows the decision made fans furious and he got the butt of jokes.
Who is the only man who has ever broken up two perfect games?
Roberts, who also pulled Rich Hill with a perfect game in 2016 after six innings, though he had bladder problems at the time.
“I’m not on social media,” Roberts said, “but I can only imagine what was out there.”
Oh no you do not.
“People,” Kershaw said smiling, “had many opinions.”
All from Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson to Little League coaches to keyboard warriors was blasting Roberts.
“It comes from fans who are emotional and passionate, which I respect,” Roberts said. “I love that they talk about baseball, the best game ever invented.
“My only question is just to understand that you know that when you do my job, you have to respond to the consequences. But fans want to be fans, and they have every right to express their opinions.”
Roberts can not come out and publicly say that Kershaw wanted to get out of the match when the seventh inning ended, knowing that 80 seats was more than enough. He did not want to talk about Kershaw’s past injuries. And he certainly did not want to reveal any secrets in the decision to remove Hill.
“Look,” Roberts said quietly on the field before Thursday’s match, “I’m not a Grim Reaper.
Just try not to convince passionate baseball fans otherwise, with Dodger fans mingling in buh and cheers during Roberts ‘introduction to the match, while Kershaw was greeted with a thunderous ovation at the Dodgers’ home opener.
“Fans want to see great moments,” Roberts said. “Clayton wants to see great moments. But I can not control the ball club and players with the fan cap on. “
If Kershaw was 24 and not 34, it would have been different, Roberts says. If this was his second or third start of the season, he might have let him go. If he hadn’t gone since 2015 without making 30 starts or pitching 200 innings, he would have leaned back and cheered on history.
“We all want the big players to do great things,” Roberts said. “But there’s a cost to everything, and I was not willing, and Clayton was not willing to take on that price.”
But, man, oh, man, it would definitely have been sweet to tick off the perfect game on a resume that includes three Cy Young Awards.
“It’s a special thing,” Kershaw said. “I do not take it for granted. I understand the story of the game. I understand what that means in the game of baseball.
“The individual stuff is not the reason I keep playing the game. I want to win. It replaces everything individually for me right now.
“Hopefully, when we win the World Series in October, it will mean something.”
If not, well, then we are all left to wonder, “What if?” on that chilly 38-degree afternoon in Minneapolis when Kershaw was so close to perfection.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale.