By MARK MAYNARD
LOS ANGELES —
Local umpire Greg Gibson was naturally excited to be behind the plate for Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter on Wednesday night.
But he was almost equally excited about what happened before the game.
“I looked at the security guy and said, ‘Is that Billy Ray Cyrus?’ He sang the national anthem. I said, ‘Hey Billy, I met you a long time ago with Charlie Reliford.’ He said, ‘Hey, yeah, you’re the other guy!’’’
Gibson took Billy Ray to the plate with him for pregame instruction.
“It was hilarious. The guys on the crew said, ‘You’re not making up how you talk after hearing him.’ He took a selfie of me and him at home plate. Don Mattingly said, ‘You guys from Tennessee?’ Both of us said, ‘No, no. From Kentucky.’’’
While that was a cool moment for Gibson, it couldn’t come close to matching what happened on the field.
Kershaw struck out 15 and allowed only one baserunner, via a throwing error, in a dominating 8-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
It was Kershaw’s first no-hitter but it was the second Gibson has called. He was behind the plate for Randy Johnson’s perfect game against the Braves in 2004.
It was a bit of deja vu, too. On that date 10 years ago he was with crew chief Gerry Davis, who was also the crew chief on Thursday.
“Charlie Reliford had Harry Wendelstedt as his crew chief. Gerry Davis is my Harry, the dean of umpires” Gibson said.
Kershaw was equally dominating as Johnson was in his perfect game, Gibson said.
“He had the slider and curveball going,” Gibson said of Kershaw. “He asked me (about) one pitch in the top of first. That was it.”
Gibson said the no-hitter was nothing he did.
“God smiles on you at the right time. It’s a unique experience.”
Gibson said when pitchers are throwing like Kershaw, the umpire’s job is made easy.
“It was all him. He put it right there and made my job easy. When you pitch extremely well, my job is extremely easy. It’s when they’re struggling that it’s tough.
“He had everything going. It’s just one of those things.”
Gibson said it’s important for umpires not to get caught up in the moment.
“You have to call your game,” he said.
Gibson was behind the plate earlier this season when Texas pitcher Yu Darvish took a perfect game into the seventh inning. An error ended his run and he later allowed a hit in the ninth inning. The error was later changed to a hit by the official scorekeeper.
Kershaw took a no-hitter into the seventh as well but shortstop Handley Ramirez’s two-base error on a slow roller by Corey Dickerson allowed the first and only baserunner.
But that was it for the Rockies against the 26-year-old Kershaw, who shrugged off the miscue and came oh-so-close to pitching the 22nd perfecto in the majors since 1900.
One batter after Dickerson reached base, rookie third baseman Miguel Rojas backhanded Troy Tulowitzki’s grounder behind the bag and let fly with a strong throw to first that Adrian Gonzalez — a three-time Gold Glove winner — scooped out of the dirt to keep the no-hitter intact.
And with the crowd of 46,069 on its feet and roaring, Kershaw made quick work of the Rockies in the ninth.
“They’re the best in the world at what they do,” Gibson said “They make it look easy.”
Kershaw is the fourth pitcher to strike out 15 batters in a no-hitter, the others being Nolan Ryan, Don Wilson and Warren Spahn.
Ryan, who threw seven no-hitters, whiffed 17 batters in one of them, 16 in another and 15 in yet another.
Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully called his 19th no-hitter, including three perfect games starting with Don Larsen’s in the 1956 World Series. That’s seven percent of all no-hitters ever thrown.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.