By Jon Weisman
When Miguel Rojas pinch-hit for Miami with one out in the top of the sixth inning tonight against Clayton Kershaw, it seemed little more than a happy reunion.
Kershaw was pitching like he did the night of June 18, 2014, when Rojas’ dazzling defensive play at third base was the one Kershaw needed to preserve his first career no-hitter. If not for a fly-ball triple to left field in the second inning, the Marlins would have been hitless this evening as well.
It would have been some kind of irony had Rojas broken up a Kershaw no-hitter tonight. With that off the table, Rojas did something far worse.
Rojas’ broken-bat double — his first extra-base hit in 62 plate appearances, dating back to September 18 — started a five-run Miami rally that Giancarlo Stanton finished with a 433-foot, three-run home run, in what would become a 6-3 Dodger loss.
Kershaw hadn’t allowed a home run with two men on base in 844 1/3 innings, since June 9, 2012, when none other than Miguel Olivo hit one for the Mariners. (In 1,648 career innings, Kershaw has still never allowed a grand slam.)
Stanton had gone 0 for 2 against Kershaw in the game, looking mismatched on a fourth-inning strikeout, and was 4 for 17 with one homer and three RBI in his career against the lefty. This time, there was no foolin’.
Still, it was stunning. Before Rojas’ double, Kershaw had retired 16 of 17 batters — eight strikeouts, eight infield outs. His season ERA was down to 1.27. He had already become the first Dodger to average seven innings per April start since Derek Lowe in 2005, and he would go on to whiff 10 in all, setting a Dodger record for starting pitchers in April with a 13.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio (40 strikeouts/three walks).
In fact, for the first five innings, this had been a night to revive the “Kershaw MVP” chants. In addition to his pitching dominance, Kershaw had gone over his head to knock down a first-inning comebacker for an out, and also had two hits — a butcher-block single to left in the second inning, and a booming RBI double (97 mph in exit velocity) in the fourth.
That had given Los Angeles a 3-0 lead, though no doubt the Dodgers regretted not having more. Marlins starter Tom Koehler walked three of the first four batters he faced to start the game and sent two home on wild pitches. But Kershaw would have the Dodgers’ only RBI of the night.
After Rojas’ double, Dee Gordon (who was 0 for 2 and in an 11-for-57 slump) hit a two-strike comebacker off Kershaw’s leg for an infield single. Martin Prado and Christian Yelich followed with RBI singles, setting up the confrontation-turned-conflagration with Stanton.
With Kershaw having allowed five earned runs all year to that moment, those five batters literally doubled his ERA.