Bill Plaschke: Clayton Kershaw's actions were Cy Young-worthy
The first perfect game in American League history was thrown by a pitcher who ended it with a taunt, defending his teammates against an insult, screaming at the final batter, "How do you like that, you hayseed?"
The year was 1904, and the pitcher was Cy Young.
On Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium, imitating that long-ago barb with an inside fastball, a battling Clayton Kershaw proved worthy of winning the award that carries Cy Young’s name.
Although Kershaw will never admit it, his pitch that plunked the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Gerardo Parra in the elbow in the sixth inning of the Dodgers’ eventual 3-2 victory appeared to be a retaliation for Parra’s crotch-grabbing, home-run posing insult of the Dodgers on Tuesday night.
Kershaw was immediately ejected, and some might think his Cy Young bid was derailed, but I propose that it was cemented. At a moment where he would have been excused the greatest of selfishness, he threw one for the team. By hitting Parra, he had everything to lose but his teammates' respect, yet clearly decided he would rather have that respect.
"I’m not disappointed at all," Kershaw told reporters after the game. "We got a win."
At the time of that inside pitch, Kershaw was throwing a one-hitter with five strikeouts. He had retired the previous seven batters. He might have been headed toward his third shutout. All this was happening while his top Cy Young competitor, Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies, was completing a six-hitter against the Houston Astros.
Kershaw could have played it safe and finished the game and nobody would have blamed him. But Kershaw obviously couldn’t forget the previous night, when Parra was angered by an inside pitch from Hong-Chih Kuo in the seventh inning, and then taunted the Dodgers with gestures both before and after his ensuing home run.
It didn’t matter. Parra acted like a punk. The players on both benches barked at each other. Nobody barked louder than Kershaw, who could be seen yelling, "We’ll find out ... we’ll find out ... let’s go!"
On Wednesday night, we found out. The kid has toughness to go with his greatness, leadership to match his skill.
There was no incident between the two men in Parra’s first at-bat in the third inning, with the Diamondback outfielder lining an outside pitch to the wall for a double. But in the sixth inning, Kershaw quickly came inside, the ball brushed Parra’s elbow, and umpire Bill Welke, who obviously saw replays of Kershaw’s veiled threats the previous night, ejected him.
“The first at-bat, I threw him all away and he hit a double, so the next at-bat I came in," Kershaw explained. "It’s just unfortunate. I understand he had a job to do but at the same time he has to pay attention to what’s going on in the game a little better."
This is not to condone the dangerous act of throwing at a player’s head, which is what the Angels’ Jered Weaver did earlier this summer against the Detroit Tigers. Kershaw wasn’t doing that. He simply threw it enough inside to brush an arm and send a message.
The message is, you want this pitcher in your clubhouse. You want this pitcher on your mound. Cy Young would undoubtedly be proud to have this pitcher’s name on his award.
With two weeks left in the season, Kershaw leads the league in ERA (2.34) and strikeouts (236) while being tied for the league lead with 19 wins. Halladay may have pitched in bigger games, but he does not have better numbers, and the vote should not be close.
On a night he lost a fastball, Clayton Kershaw won an award, captured a clubhouse and asked a very pointed question of an Arizona hayseed.
-- Bill Plaschke
Photo: Clayton Kershaw reacts in the dugout after being ejected Wednesday. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire