"And now, if you don't mind, I'm going to sit back and watch it with you."
With those 16 words, Vin Scully kicked off the ninth inning for TV viewers watching Clayton Kershaw's masterpiece against the Rockies on Wednesday night. The Dodgers were up 8-0, the score they'd win by, and through eight innings, Kershaw hadn't allowed a hit. The only person to reach base, Corey Dickerson, did so on a Hanley Ramirez error in the seventh. He already had 14 strikeouts, and the reigning best pitcher on the planet was three outs away from his first career no-hitter. It only seems appropriate that a man who has seen seemingly everything baseball would offer would want to sit back and watch like a regular fan.
When Kershaw did finish the no-hitter with a six-pitch final inning, he did so with 15 strikeouts and a game score of 102, the highest in baseball history after Kerry Wood scored 105 against the Houston Astros in 1998.
The first batter of the ninth, D.J. LeMahieu, grounded out to Adrian Gonzalez. Charlie Culberson came up next after entering the game as part of a double-switch. It was his first plate appearance of the game, which is to say he essentially had no chance of breaking up the no-no. Unsurprisingly, he popped out to shallow right field. Then came Dickerson, the lone Colorado baserunner of the game. Kershaw needed to retire him to enter the history books in a different way.
Kershaw started Dickerson with a fastball, hitting 94 mph on the gun on his 104th pitch of the night for strike one. He doubled up on the heater, again running it up to 94. Dickerson got a piece of it this time, but just a piece, fouling it off and finding himself in an 0-2 hole. Kershaw then came back with a curveball -- the pitch that had probably been his best all night -- and Dickerson fouled it off near the Dodgers' dugout to stay alive. Catcher A.J. Ellis set up off the plate away for the next pitch, and Kershaw put an 87 mph slider right on the spot, as if he had walked the 60 feet, six inches from the pitcher's rubber to home plate and placed it in Ellis' glove. Dickerson swung helplessly for strike three, Kershaw's career-best 15th strikeout, out No. 27, and the 22nd no-hitter in the storied history of the Dodgers franchise and second this season after Josh Beckett's on May 25.
It was clear from the early going that Kershaw had his best stuff Wednesday night. He struck out five of the first eight batters, and the Rockies managed to get the ball out of the infield exactly twice their first two times through the order. The only disappointed player in the Dodgers clubhouse might be Ramirez, whose throwing error was the only blemish of the evening. He had to charge Dickerson's weakly hit grounder to lead off the seventh inning, but had plenty of time to make what was a routine play. Instead, his throw went wide of Gonzalez, resulting in a two-base error. Still, Kershaw was all smiles after the game.
"As far as individual games go, this is pretty special," Kershaw told SportsNet L.A.'s Alanna Rizzo. "I'll remember this for the rest of my life, and to do it at home is even better."
After hitting a small speed bump early in his return from the DL, Kershaw has looked more like the two-time former Cy Young winner over the last month. He has allowed just seven runs on 24 hits with with 58 strikeouts in his last six starts, a stretch covering 42 innings. More importantly, Wednesday's win, coupled with the Giants' loss to the White Sox, brought the Dodgers to within four games of the NL West lead.
For one night, though, the jockeying in the division was not the story. Rather, it was the singular performance of the man who has become the most dominant player in the league when standing on the pitcher's mound.