By Jon Weisman
Embarrassing as it is to admit, I think what I might remember most about my first year with the Dodgers was the stress I felt trying to do a job worthy of this franchise.
That being said, there were some incredibly cool moments that I’ll recall. But nothing remotely compares to the one I’m about to describe, one culminating in a tension beyond dreaming.
June 18 was a Wednesday, the night each week that Young Miss Weisman has piano lessons. The Dodgers had a home game that night, but it was the last night of the homestand and it was a game I could afford to miss, so I told my wife I’d pick our daughter up. I said that before remembering that it would be Clayton Kershaw pitching.
Now, you never want to voluntarily miss a Clayton Kershaw start. But what was done was done. As cars began pulling into Dodger Stadium before the game, I weaved my way out.
Nothing of note happened on my drive. The five Weismans sat down for dinner at home, right around the moment Kershaw through his first pitch against Colorado. By the middle of the second inning, we were done eating.
After Kershaw retired his seventh, eighth and ninth batters in a row to end the top of the third, however, I realized I was in trouble.
I’m not one to start wondering about no-hitters in the third inning, but Kershaw was extremely untouchable in his first run through the order, striking out five of the first nine batters. And just a few weeks before, I had looked back at every one of Kershaw’s career MLB starts, nearly 200 of them at the time, and knew just how rare it was for him to take a no-hitter even past the third inning.
I had already changed out of my work clothes into a T-shirt and sweats, but I told my wife that if he took this no-no past the fifth, I was going back to the stadium. She looked at me like I’d been hit in the head with a curveball. But after he set down the Rockies in the fourth, I put my work vestments back on. And when Josh Rutledge hit a comebacker to Kershaw to end the top of the fifth, I was out the door.
Working in my favor was that by this time, my 13-mile drive would me mostly unimpeded by traffic. Working against me was that Kershaw was driving down Colorado hitters faster than the speed limit on the Santa Monica Freeway. And the Dodgers suddenly weren’t much help at the plate. Having scored eight runs in the first four innings, Los Angeles hit into an inning-ending double play in the fifth and managed only a Dee Gordon walk in an otherwise quiet sixth.
I pulled into the parking lot just as the sixth inning was ending, hotfooting it to the press box in time for the start of the seventh. After 18 consecutive Colorado outs, the first batter I saw, Corey Dickerson, hit a soft grounder to Hanley Ramirez, who couldn’t make the play at first, drawing the error that didn’t end the no-hitter but did end the perfect game.
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I shrank back, sure that I would get as much blame as Ramirez and unconvinced I didn’t deserve it.
But in between Kershaw strikeouts, Miguel Rojas made a play that was every bit as delightful as Ramirez’s was depressing, and Kershaw’s no-hitter was intact with six outs to go. He had thrown 93 pitches.
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After a perfect eighth inning, I went down next to the field level, between the Dodger dugout and the owners box, for the ninth.
This was not the first no-hitter I might see — I had been to Fernando Valenzuela’s career-topping masterpiece, Dennis Martinez’s perfect game and Kent Mercker’s crowd-swerving no-hitter for the Braves, along with the nine no-hit innings thrown by Montreal’s Mark Gardner in an extra-inning Expos loss at Dodger Stadium, two nights before Martinez’s gem. But this was by far my closest look at history.
The first two Rockies made first-pitch outs, bringing Dickerson up to the plate. Down to his last strike, Dickerson fouled a classic Kershaw curveball right at us. You can see me in the crowd, about 15 feet from a tumbling A.J. Ellis.
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The next pitch, the 107th of the night, brought Kershaw’s 27th out (28th counting the one hit to Ramirez), his 15th strikeout, completing what might have been the most dominant pitching performance in Dodger history, Sandy Koufax included. Magnificent. Unreal.
After going on the field to snap a couple of pictures of the celebration — and, let’s be honest, just to be a part of it — I retreated through the dugout with my laptop to quickly post to the blog. I parked myself on a folding chair that was outside the clubhouse door.
Maybe a minute or two after that, Kershaw himself entered. Strangely, there was almost no one else around, in that spot and in that moment, except for a SportsNet LA cameraman and photographer Jon SooHoo, chronicling his every move. Otherwise, Kershaw had parted through his entourage, which was mostly waiting inside the clubhouse proper. I looked up, not sure if I were an intruder on the scene or a ghost.
By this time in my Dodger life, Kershaw knew generally who I was, but it’s not as if he really knew me — I’m not sure if he even knew my name. So you can imagine how taken aback I was when he put his glove down on some gear near me and asked, “Can you watch this for a minute?”
The glove. And inside it? The ball.
Practically tongue-tied — and simply astonished he’d let this out of his hands, let alone his sight, I said, “Sure.”
I picked the glove and ball up to make sure nothing happened to them, for example, like a meteor crashing through and destroying them. Think how responsible I’d feel. Force majeure? Yeah, right.
In reality, I had the ball and glove for less than a minute before they were returned. Kershaw had just asked me to watch them for a minute — if he had meant two minutes, I suppose he would have said so, right? But what a minute.
Maybe someday, such anecdotes will seem more routine and less magical. But I doubt it. It was on that night, in that moment, melodramatic as it sounds, that I feel like I touched greatness.