Here’s what you may have missed from Friday in baseball:
It’s easy to get used to greatness. The human brain can’t keep being amazed. If someone has performed a task well enough over a long enough period, we come to expect it. So even though pretty numbers mean no more than ugly ones, and Clayton Kershaw was not a better pitcher after Jonathan Villar swung through a four-seamer in the second inning for Kershaw’s 2,000th career strikeout than he was when the count was 0–2, the milestone provided a good opportunity for us to reflect on how lucky we are to watch him. There are many ways to break down Kershaw’s excellence: He became the 79th pitcher in history to hit the mark, doing it in the fifth-shortest time by age (29 years, 75 days), third-fewest innings (1837 2/3) and second-fewest games played (277, behind only Randy Johnson). Kershaw’s career WHIP (1.002) is second all-time; his strikeouts per nine (9.816), sixth. He struck out 14 of the 24 batters he faced tonight.
But perhaps the most amazing stat is that every year he has lowered his career ERA, from 4.26 in 2008 to 3.36 to 3.17 to 2.88 to 2.79 to 2.60 to 248 to 2.43 to 2.37 last year. This seems impossible to maintain. And yet … his seven one-run innings tonight brought this season’s ERA to 2.28, and his career mark to 2.36. And best of all, he’s still getting better. There were times when it seemed as if he might hit 3,000 on Friday, too.
Manny Machado against the Red Sox continues to be the best rivalry of the season. The Orioles’ third baseman now has 12 hits against Boston in 2017. Five of them are home runs. The first was unexciting—a solo shot off Drew Pomeranz on April 21—but three innings later, Machado slid hard into second base and spiked Dustin Pedroia. Then began a frankly embarrassing exchange of retaliation: Matt Barnes threw behind Machado, Baltimore’s Dylan Bundy hit Mookie Betts, Chris Sale threw behind Machado. Baseball doesn’t need that vigilante justice. What it does need, though, is Machado’s response: a big ol’ grin as he hits homer after homer against his new least favorite team. Friday’s might still be rising if it hadn’t run into the façade of the second deck at Camden Yards. The Orioles won 3–2; Machado’s smile may not have faded yet.
The Kids Are Alright
Friday afternoon, the Yankees’ Aaron Judge and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger learned that they had won the May’s AL and NL Rookie of the Month awards, respectively. That night, they each celebrated with long home runs—Judge his major league–leading 18th, Bellinger his 12th. (Bellinger’s also won the game for Los Angeles in the 12th inning.) Baseball is a young man’s game these days; Judge, 25, and Bellinger, 21, are just two members of a star-studded group of 25-and-young hitters that includes Mike Trout and Kris Bryant, 25; Machado, Betts and Bryce Harper, 24; Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor, 23; and Carlos Correa, 22.