Clayton Kershaw shows why he deserves to start All-Star Game

Clayton Kershaw’s eight-inning, six-strikeout performance against the Angels on Friday was imperfect, but it was perfect in its excellence and efficiency and the absorbing drama he created on a warm summer night made for baseball and lavish splashes of the improbable was.

With more than a little defensive help from his friends, he kept the Angels off the bases for seven innings and stirred up a Dodgers-like crowd at Angel Stadium by defeating Shohei Ohtani and Taylor Ward to end the seventh.

“After the third or fourth incredible game, I thought it was going to happen,” said catcher Austin Barnes of a perfect game. “He wanted it. We all wanted it. Especially the defense played so well behind him. You don’t have many chances there. He threw the ball in a special way today.”

Kershaw didn’t get his perfect game. He gave up a clean, sharply drawn double in the eighth from leadoff hitter Luis Rengifo on a 2-and-1 pitch, an 87-mile slider that deflated the crowd’s hopes of seeing history but quickly reinvented itself grouped to withdraw the next three batters. He said goodbye to a well-deserved standing ovation, waved his hand and smiled his respect, and left it to Reyes Moronta to clinch the Dodgers’ 9-1 win, which was impressive by any measure.

“That was a classic Kershaw performance, I think,” said third baseman Justin Turner, whose remarkable jump and throw from a knee on a shot that Michael Stefanic caught in the fourth helped keep the perfect game alive.

“He’d worked all his pitches, had his pitch countdown. There was a point in the middle of the game where you kind of knew what was going on and had a really good feeling about it.”

But Kershaw still has a chance to enjoy a perfect moment. It was supposed to happen Tuesday at Dodger Stadium, where he was set to be the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game.

There are other pitchers who have bangier numbers, including Dodger teammate Tony Gonsolin. There are other pitchers who have put up impressive stats. But nobody deserves that honor and moment more than Kershaw at this point in his career, and especially on the field he’s graced for 15 seasons where we’ve admired him, sometimes suffered with him, and cheered with him, too.

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws against the Angels in the eighth inning on Friday.

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws against the Angels in the eighth inning on Friday.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The three-time Cy Young Award winner, 34, missed most of last season with a forearm injury. He came back to play seven perfect innings and bat 13 in his first start of the season in chilly Minnesota. A starting manager, Dave Roberts, didn’t let him finish because of the early schedule and Kershaw’s injury history. It seemed only right that Kershaw would bracket that with his seven perfect innings on Friday in his last start before the All-Star celebrations on the field.

This is the perfect time to celebrate him as an all-star starter.

“He just had a great first half, obviously a great career,” Roberts said. “And I look forward to seeing him play at Dodger Stadium [Tuesday]and hopefully it will be the first pitch of the game.”

Kershaw earned that role, although he wouldn’t say so on Friday. When asked if his next start was Tuesday, he smiled. “Yes, the All-Star Game is definitely on Tuesday,” he said. “I’m happy to be a part of it.

“At the end of the day you look at everyone’s CVs, the stats for this season, there’s a lot of guys who deserve more than me to start this game but if it did happen it would be a huge honor. I would definitely look forward to doing that.”

Kershaw had just two three-ball counts on Friday, against Brandon Marsh in the third inning and Jared Walsh in the eighth, and his focus never wavered. His fastball bounced in and out. His curve unbalanced the angels. Everything worked for him and worked smoothly. He threw 89 pitches, 63 for strikes.

“It would have been a perfect game for a really big team if it happened,” Kershaw said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but overall a good night.”

Not just good. Big. “He just goes deep into the games. It’s kind of a lost art these days,” Barnes said.

It’s a beautiful art. “He still has it,” Turner said. “He still has a very special left arm and it’s still fun to stand behind him and watch him compete.”

Watching Kershaw start the All-Star game would be even more fun. “He’s ticked off pretty much everything that can be ticked off in his career and that would be the icing on the cake of everything he’s accomplished,” Turner said. “And with that said, there’s a lot of innings left in him.”

Kershaw’s quest for the perfect game continues. He deserves another perfect moment on Tuesday as he starts a game with the best of the best and takes a prominent place alongside them. Clayton Kershaw shows why he deserves to start All-Star Game

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