Really, better, when you figure that the only baserunner reached on a Hanley Ramirez error that otherwise would have been a 28th out. Per Vin Scully's soothing end of game narrative, the only Rockies hitter he didn't strike out was Troy Tulowitzki, a man who, by fWAR, is tied for the best season in baseball through nearly half of this 2014 season. (As an aside, the guy he's tied with, coincidentally, is on pace to have the seventh best three-year stretch in the history of the game, in his age 20-22 seasons.) Herr Tulo, he of the .467 wOBA, went 0-3, and his sharp grounder was the closest thing to a hit that Kershaw conceded.
With 15 Ks, his 102 game score was only three less than Kerry Wood's 20-k 1-hitter. Mark Buehrle's perfect game is seared into the memory of every White Sox fan, but it would have never happened but for DeWayne Wise haling in that would-be homerun (i.e., "the catch"). Tradiotionalists, most of whom are concerned primarily with outcomes, would no doubt consider Buehrle's game superior to Wood's, as it was a true "no hitter". We mother's basement dwellers, after retiring with our fellow nerds and calculators to the nerdery, would probably consider Wood's the superior game, as he K'd 14 more than Buehrle's 6, and strikeouts are outs irrespective of whether you're fielding the Oakland Athletics or the Tigers from the Sandlot. A reasonable person, who might see merit in the tradition of "perfect games" and "no hitters" but also acknowledge that, if pitch count is not a concern, it's better to strike someone out than concede a groundball that may find a gap, would be entirely justified in considering this Kershaw gem to be the greatest game ever pitched.
To begin with, the historical element of a no-hitter was preserved. In this regard alone, from the traditionalist perspective, it was definitionally superior to Gallaraga's effort, wherein he was robbed of a perfect game by imperfect umpiring and the absence of video replay. But whether this Gutierrez single:
was superior contact to this Tulo wormburner to Miguel Rojas:
is a metaphysical question. I'll take Wood's effort, by a hair's breadth, though if I told my father that it would put him in an early grave. But one thing is certain:
We are alive to watch not only a reliever on pace through four seasons to be better than Mo, and an outfielder on pace through three seasons to be better than Bonds and Ruth, but a 26 year old starter on pace through five-and-a-half seasons to be better than Koufax, Clemens, or Paige. It's fantastic that LeBron, Manning, Messi, and other titans of sport are playing in the present. It's equally impressive that Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are competing right now, as well. But as a fan of baseball first and foremost, I consider it damn miraculous that I got to stay up and watch Clayton Kershaw pick apart the Rockies with a glass of whiskey and the greatest sports commentator I've ever heard.
So how'd he do it? Of the thirteen people with the almost-superhuman ability to actually bat the ball into fair territory, nine of them hit ground-balls. Groundballs, you'll recall, produce .05 runs per out. Otherwise, Barnes flew out (1st inning) , Tulo flew out (4th), Culberson flew out (9th), and DeLaRosa "lined" out softly to third (3d). Ordinarily flyballs generate .13 runs per out, and line drives 1.26 runs per out, but these weren't warning track flies and Joey Votto gap-splitters with which we're concerned. Lazy flies and a sure out at third, all of which came in different innings. Ignoring that he had eight runs of support, Kershaw never allowed any leverage. Even his outs-which-might-sometimes-fall-for-a-hit were spread out evenly across innings. Per Brooks, he induced whiffs on 12 of his 31 sliders. And he did this all while throwing pitches almost perfectly in line with his season ratios. 56 fastballs, 31 sliders, 18 curveballs, and two changes. His season ratios are 55.7%, 30.2%, 12.7%, and 1.5%. Too extent you could have "prepared" for Kershaw by consulting a "book", you'd've predicted his pitch selection nearly perfectly. And he'd've still rendered your efforts utterly futile, just as he did to Troy Tulowitzski and the Colorado Rockies. Oh, and he'd've come right at you. Kershaw didn't throw a ball in the 4th, 8th, or 9th innings. Hell, he only threw 28 balls on 107 pitches all night.
I'm sorry, Chris Sale. I will defend you vociferously to my friends who are fans of the Mariners, the Rangers, and the Yankees. We can all build strong cases for Felix, Yu, Tanaka, and you for AL Cy Young. None of us could construct such an argument for any of you if you threw in the NL.
Clayton Kershaw. The Best Pitcher in Baseball.