“But . . . history, dammit!!!”

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw pitching in Target Field, against the Twins, Wednesday. He was lifted after seven perfect innings and the world went nuclear.

Finally, Steven Kwan went hitless. It took his sixth major league game before somebody’s pitchers finally found ways to get him out all day long, if you don’t count the bases-loaded walk he took in the second to start the scoring in a 7-3 Guardians win.

Then Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. smashed three home runs against the Yankees in the south Bronx, including a pair off Yankee ace Gerrit Cole, en route a  6-4 Blue Jays win, a performance that had even the Yankees dropping their jaws in amazement.

Those might have been the top stories Wednesday if not for Clayton Kershaw and Dave Roberts.

Kershaw pitched seven perfect against the Twins in Minneapolis. Despite his having thrown “only” seventy pitches while striking thirteen Twins out including striking the side out in the sixth, Kershaw didn’t come back for the eighth inning. Roberts ended Kershaw’s day knowing both men agreed he’d be on a limited leash in his first season’s start at all, never mind pitching in temperatures in the thirties.

The world went nuclear over it.

Sometimes during the uproar it seemed nobody wanted to listen when Kershaw postgame explained, among other things, “I knew going in that my pitch count wasn’t going to be one hundred. It’s a hard thing to do, to come out of a game when you’re doing that. We’re here to win. This was the right choice.”

He’s Clayton Freaking Kershaw and he should have been entitled to finish that perfect game!

“Those are selfish goals. We’re trying to win,” said the lefthander who pitched a no-hitter in 2014 and whose black ink from ages 23-29 has already secured his reservation in the Hall of Fame.

That’s really all we’re here for. As much as I would’ve wanted to do it, I’ve thrown 75 pitches in a [simulated] game, and I hadn’t gone six innings, let alone seven. Sure, I would’ve loved to do it. But maybe I’ll get another chance.. . . I would have loved to have stayed, but bigger things, man, bigger things . . . Earlier in my career, I’d be built up to a hundred pitches. Blame it on the lockout. Blame it on me not picking up a baseball until January. My slider was horrible the last two innings. It didn’t have the bite. It was time.

Whaddabout history?!? Whaddabout entertainment?!? This is the way baseball brings the fans back?!?

What about the injury history of a 34-year-old pitcher, working in that 30-degree temperature range in crisp Minnesota, after an owners’ lockout-imposed badly abbreviated spring training, and coming off a season ended by forearm/elbow inflammation, accompanied by speculation he might even face Tommy John surgery? To say nothing of Kershaw not picking up a ball until January because of continued recovery from that forearm issue?

Goddam analytics!!!!!

Protecting a pitcher’s health—which is exactly what Roberts did, presiding over a starting rotation about whose long-term health Roberts has said on the record is the key to the Dodgers’ long-term seasonal health and success—has absolutely nothing to do with analytics. All the analytical information available to managers and players about their own and their oppositions’ tendencies isn’t going to tell you whether or when a player’s liable to incur injuries. Analytics aren’t that smart.

“It was a short spring training after a lockout,” reminded no less than Aaron Gleeman, who covers the Twins for The Athletic. “He’s not fully built up. Nothing to do with analytics.”

Nolan Ryan wouldn’t have come out after only seventy [fornicating] pitches, and his manager would have had a fight on his hands if he tried to lift Ryan!!!!

Any time any starting pitcher gets the early hook for any reason in any circumstance—never mind that most managers now have their starters on pitch limits in an admirable bid to compensate for the too-short spring training preparation and assure their long-term season’s health as best as possible—there still comes even one ignorant Ryan name-drop. This one delivered truckloads of them all around social media.

I’m going to let Athletic analyst Keith Law say it for me as I also did when reviewing the book in which he said it, The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behaviour Teaches Us About Ourselves, two years ago:

The center square on your [Pitch Count Bingo] card is Nolan Ryan, whose name is certain to come up in any attempt to discuss the limits of the human body to throw a projectile at 95 mph repeatedly over a three-hour span . . .

Nolan Ryan was a physical marvel, and an extreme outlier when it came to durability, although most discussions of the latter ignore the part where he missed 1967 and 1968 with persistent arm trouble. Ryan did things we will probably never see again, not now that pitchers throw harder than ever and play more than ever as kids, while teams work to keep their most gifted pitchers healthy until they reach the majors . . .

Nolan Ryan is the ultimate survivor, the survivor ne plus ultra, the übersurvivor when it comes to survivorship bias. Yes, Ryan defied everything we know now about pitch limits, and shouldered (pun intended) workloads that no MLB would ever allow a pitcher to carry [now], whether in individual games or entire seasons . . .

He is . . . an outlier, a great exception—not one that “proves” the rule, but one that causes many people to discard the rule. Most pitchers can’t handle the workloads that Ryan did; they would break down and suffer a major injury to their elbow or shoulder, or they would simply become less effective as a result of the heavy usage, and thus receive fewer opportunities to pitch going forward. Teams did try to give pitchers more work for decades, well into the early 2000s, but you don’t know the names of those pitchers because they didn’t survive: they broke down, or pitched worse, or some combination of the above. (Emphasis added.)

By the way, the Dodgers did finish the victory they began while Kershaw was in the game. They led 3-0 when he came out. With one out in the top of the eighth, Cody Bellinger, Gavin Lux, and Austin Barnes smashed back-to-back-to-back home runs off Dereck Rodriguez working his fourth inning of relief. Then Max Muncy greeted Rodriguez’s relief Griffin Jax by leading off the top of the ninth hitting a full-count fastball over the right field fence.

They also lost the perfecto when Kershaw’s relief Alex Vesia surrendered a one-out line single to former Yankee Gary Sanchez in the bottom of the seventh. Nobody saw Kershaw complain. If anything, he looked about as jovial and hail-fellow in the dugout as a man can look after being “robbed” of a shot at “history.” A man who knows his baseball immortality is already assured is far more sanguine in such circumstances than the world going nutshit about his “robbery.”

There were 233,345 major league baseball games before Wednesday, and only 23 of them were perfect. Thirteen (57 percent) were pitched by men who’d get to the Hall of Fame as visitors only. Only one—Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax’s jewel of 9 September 1965, after Koufax threw mere no-hitters in each of his three previous seasons—actually proved that practise makes perfect.

Should the Dodgers fail in their quest for one full-season World Series championship while Kershaw remains among them, it won’t be because he was lifted after seven perfect innings in his first season’s start. Should they succeed in that quest, it will be in considerable part because Roberts placed his pitcher’s long-term, season’s health—with his pitcher on board entirely—ahead of “history.”

“But who is a perfect game for, anyway?” asks Sports Illustrated writer Emma Baccelieri, who answers promptly. “It might be just as easy to conceive of it as selfless rather than selfish: a great communal gift as much as a great individual achievement. Everything on Wednesday made sense. But perhaps it is not selfish—not unreasonable—to wish that everything did not have to make so much sense all the time.”

Would I have loved to see Kershaw consummate a perfect game? You might as well ask if I still enjoy being alive. Just don’t ask me to list the roll of Hall of Fame pitchers who never got to pitch perfect games, either. They’d only begin with Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and, yes, St. Ryan himself—who threw seven no-hitters but was never perfect even once.

You’re worried about “entertainment?” The single most entertaining things in baseball other than actual games and even World Series triumphs are arguments liable to last as long as baseball itself will last. Even when those arguments are as witless as the day is long.

2 thoughts on ““But . . . history, dammit!!!”

  1. I watched a fair amount of that game on Bally TV, our local carrier of every Twins game this year except two (which are on ESPN). The Twins didn’t have a clue in those seven innings.

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    Liked by 1 person

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