LOS ANGELES -- In the last few innings Wednesday night, the tension was building, even though what ultimately happened has always felt inevitable. Clayton Kershaw would retreat from the mound to the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout. He'd sit smack-dab in the middle of the bench. About 15 feet to his right sat pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, looking in every direction other than Kershaw's. Up front, lining the railing, were the 24 other players on the team, the trainers, the coaches, security and manager Don Mattingly, nobody so much as glancing in Kershaw's direction.
It wasn't until Kershaw had done it, pitched his first no-hitter in an 8-0 win over the Rockies, that he smiled as he chucked his glove and thrust his hands in the sky. That seemed to be the cue, the tension-cutter, inviting his teammates to come and swarm him in hugs near the mound. There has always been that code with Kershaw. Everyone who works with him has learned to deal with it every fifth day. It has become part of the job working around this team. And if you watched that almost-effortless dominance Wednesday night, you know it's probably not his last no-hitter.
Just don't approach the man when he's pitching. Any other time, you can make him the butt of your jokes, prank him, argue with him, ignore him, ask him to play cards or, if you're brave, challenge him in table tennis -- any of the things you would do with any of your other teammates. Just don't approach the man when he's pitching.
So, if it looked as if the Dodgers were ignoring Kershaw because they didn't want to jinx his perfect game, which through no fault of his own settled into a no-hitter, it looked wrong. That could have been an 8-0 game in Milwaukee in which Kershaw had given up six hits and nobody would have been offering much idle chitchat.
He's the opposite of Zack Greinke, who is virtually silent on days he doesn't pitch, and a chatterbox in the dugout on days he starts.
"Everyone kind of has different personalities on days they pitch," Kershaw said. " Josh [Beckett] is really animated, loves talking. Greinke and [Dan] Haren are kind of the same way. For me, it's not that I don't talk. It's just that, I don't know, I'm not that approachable, I guess."
Kershaw's no-hitter came less than a month after Beckett's in Philadelphia. Beckett had cracked to Kershaw, "Someday, I'll teach you how to do that."
Right now, Kershaw doesn't need to learn anything from anybody. He's the best pitcher in baseball, end of discussion, and when things are working the way they were Wednesday, why even step in the box? While Beckett got through his no-hitter largely on wiles -- he walked three batters and struck out only six, relying on his fielders throughout -- Kershaw was pulling strings Wednesday. It really was a perfect game, even if the record book won't admit it to that section. His curveball and slider were so good, the only worry was that someone would hit the ball so poorly -- as Corey Dickerson did in the seventh inning -- it would go as an infield hit. Fortunately, Dickerson's didn't. Hanley Ramirez's throw to first was wild and it was correctly ruled an error. Ramirez called it an error, but Kershaw, the diligent teammate, said it could have gone either way.