May 19, 2006. Justin, Texas.
The Highland Park Scots face off against the Northwest High Texans in a state playoff game. Their starter is a 6’4” senior with a hell of a left arm by the name of Clayton Kershaw. He’s already given his team a stellar regular season, going 13-0 with a 0.77 ERA and averaging just over two strikeouts per inning. Scouts are already circling his name on their list of recommendations. This night, however, the gangly youth will put a loud punctuation on his high school career.
Not only does he strike out all 15 of the batters he faces, he also hits a solo home run. And if you consider the fact that the game ended after the 5th inning because of a mercy rule, well, that’s a major league performance from a high school pitcher.
The only public video footage of the game is at an awkward angle, but even then you could see the beginnings of greatness in the break of his pitches. Successful in the classroom as well as the baseball diamond, the Dodgers snatched up Clayton Kershaw in the first round of the draft as the 7th overall pick.
June 18, 2014. Los Angeles, California.
The Dodgers face off against the Rockies at home in Dodgers Stadium. Again and again, Kershaw retires the side, right up until an error in the 7th from shortstop Hanley Ramirez put a runner on second. No matter, though. Even with the distraction of a runner, Kershaw strikes out the very next batter, his eleventh of the night thus far. He’s right back into his groove.
Watching the highlights, it almost feels inevitable. Even Vin Scully, who has seen decades of Dodger baseball, seems to know something special is in the air.
Here, Clayton’s fastball is working, his breaking balls sharp, his famous curve deadly. And except for an excellent third base dive from Miguel Rojas to complete a quick play at first, the hits are relatively soft and easy for the position players to deal with.
Ninth inning. Two outs. Corey Dickerson, the Rockies leadoff hitter, steps into the batter’s box. He’ll be the only player to see Kershaw a fourth time in this game. He’s also the only Rockies baserunner of the game, reaching on that seventh inning error. Going into this game, Dickerson was hitting .333 with an OPS of 1.017. If there was a Rockies hitter capable of breaking up a no-hitter, Dickerson was as good a bet as any in the lineup.
The stadium is on its feet, all 46,069 fans in attendance. Even the scattered Rockies fans know they are about to witness baseball history.
Kershaw has thrown one hundred three pitches. His 104th is a fastball that Dickerson hacks at but wiffs. Pitch one-o-five is a high fastball out of the zone that the batter chases and fouls off.
The crowd grows even louder. Ellen Kershaw, Clayton’s wife and long-time partner who has been with him since well before that first high school no-hitter, clutches the hand of a friend. Her smile is bright and hopeful. If anyone has waited for this day as long as Clayton, it’s Ellen Kershaw.
Pitch one-o-six. A classic Kershaw curveball becomes a high pop up that catcher AJ Ellis sprints for, but it lands in the stands. Vin Scully rightly says that Ellis would have run through a brick wall to catch that ball, but he was cut short by the sideline railing. Home plate umpire Greg Gibson helps haul him back over the fence and onto the field.
Pitch one-o-seven. An 87 mph ball to the lower outside. Dickerson swings and misses. Clayton throws his hands up in victory and Dodger Stadium explodes into joy. Justin Turner, still in his first season as a Dodger, runs with the rest of the team to surround Kershaw, dousing the entire team with water. In the stands, Ellen hugs her friend and weep tears of joy.
Clayton Kershaw has thrown a near-perfect no-hitter with a career-high fifteen strikeouts.
After the game, reporter Alanna Rizzo asks when he knew it was going to be a magical night. He answers in typical Kershaw fashion. “We just started scoring so many runs. I didn’t want to screw that up.”
October 27th, 2020. Arlington, Texas.
Roughly twenty miles away from the high school for which he threw that no-hitter over fourteen years ago, Clayton Kershaw stands in the bullpen at Globe Life Field, arms crossed while shifting his weight back and forth, watching Julio Urias pitch the in the ninth inning.
Kershaw’s personal battles have already been fought and won. Game One against the Tampa Bay Rays, Kershaw goes six innings with eight strikeouts and only one earned run. Game Five, he goes 5.2 innings with six strikeouts and two earned runs – one of which was off the bat of the near-unstoppable Randy Arozarena. He’s recorded as the winning pitcher in both games, fully laying to rest the unearned reputation of being a postseason choker.
But tonight, Clayton Kershaw watches from the bullpen. He watches and waits. The only run for the Rays night has come from a single Arozarena homer off Tony Gonsolin in the first. Otherwise, the Dodger bullpen has kept the Rays to a scant five hits.
Julio strikes out the final batter, Willy Adames, in three pitches.
Mookie throws his glove and his hat and howls to the sky, Seags and Kiké crash together in celebration. Barnesy tucks the winning ball carefully into his back pocket before becoming the first to bearhug Urias on the mound. The infield is soon a mass of Dodgers players in a joyous dogpile.
One of the last of the on the field players to join the fray, jogging slowly in from the bullpen, is Clayton Kershaw. When he saw the last pitch, his hands shot upwards like they did after his no-hitter, this time his face lifted to the sky. Years of work, of discipline, of struggle and heartbreak, it’s all led to this.
Clayton Kershaw is a World Series Champion.
Barnes, Seager, Bellinger, Muncy, Hernández…player after player grabs him, hugs him tight, tells him how much he, Clayton Kershaw, deserves it. Ellen makes her way to the field, kids in tow. She had been pregnant with their first child, Cali Ann, during that Rockies no-hitter. Now, there are three Kershaw kiddos joining him on the field – Cali, Charley, and little Cooper Ellis.
Clayton Kershaw only has one season left on his current contract, but no one who knows him thinks this will be his last year on the mound. Barring injury or an act of nature, Kershaw will be hurling rainbow curves and nasty breaking balls for several seasons to come.
I’m heavily betting that for all of those future seasons, he’ll remain in Dodger Blue.
So here’s to Clayton Edward Kershaw. Here’s to the Dodgers. And here’s to the fans that have been there all along the way.
2021 is coming. And with Clayton at the helm, the Dodgers are more than ready to win it all again.
Read more about Clayton Kershaw: