Hiroki Kuroda looked every bit the company of Koufax on Monday night with seven perfect innings to his credit and nary a hard-hit ball, but Mark Teixeira turned on a slider up in the strike zone to lead off the top of the eighth inning with a double. Kuroda instead settled for a well-pitched, one-hit shutout in the Dodgers' 3-0 victory over the Braves.
"Just sitting back there; he wasn't missing my glove too often," catcher Russell Martin said. "The command and the quality of pitches was outstanding. His fastball had tremendous movement."
Dodgers manager Joe Torre witnessed two perfect games as skipper of the Yankees: one by David Cone and one by David Wells. Kuroda fell short and threw the Dodgers' first one-hitter in three years, but Torre felt his stuff was up to the task.
"I thought Wells' effort was as dominant as what we saw tonight," Torre said.
The victory pulled the Dodgers into a tie with the Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West with identical 44-45 records as Kuroda recorded his second complete game of the season and earned his second victory in as many starts since returning from the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis.
But the Dodgers' place in the standings meant more to Kuroda than his place in history.
"Baseball is a team effort and I wasn't the only one out there. As always, Russell had a good lead and I just followed where he put his glove," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "I had great defensive support as well. I don't think I did anything different in this game and I had great team support."
A big piece of that support came in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Nomar Garciaparra drilled a 1-2 pitch from Braves starter Jorge Campillo into the Dodgers' bullpen beyond the left-field fence.
Campillo had nearly matched Kuroda to that point, allowing just a hit and two walks while shutting out the Dodgers over the first four innings. But a leadoff walk to James Loney was followed by Garciaparra's second home run of the year and Kuroda had the lead he needed if he was going to go the distance in his bid for a perfect game.
Garciaparra said Kuroda heightened everyone's awareness.
"'Let's knock everything down, let's make the plays.' That is your mentality because of what he's doing," Garciaparra said. "He set a quick pace. He had a rhythm out there. Get the ball, throwing strikes, around the plate. When you see that, you're on your toes. Because you know -- all right, put the ball in play, put the bat on the ball. It was fun to watch."
Kuroda absolutely sailed through the first six innings, punching out six Braves and allowing just three fly balls to reach the outfield. Jason Perry's line drive to center with one out in the sixth was the lone ball that appeared to have a chance, but Andruw Jones took a couple of steps in and gloved it.
The Braves nearly broke up the perfect game in the top of the seventh, when Gregor Blanco laid a bunt down the third-base line. Blake DeWitt, who had been cheating in a bit, took a few more steps before the pitch and charged hard as the ball approached him, barehanded the ball and fired a strike to Loney at first to get Blanco by less than half a step.
Torre did not fault Blanco for his methods.
"If we were winning 10-0, I'd say no on the bunt. But it's 3-0 and they're tying to win a ballgame," Torre said. "They're not thinking about breaking up a no-hitter."
Kuroda was less convincing.
"I have no comment on that," Kuroda said. "Obviously, they were trying to win."
Kuroda followed with a flyout by Yunel Escobar and induced a ground ball from Chipper Jones to end the seventh. Teixeira got the count to 2-2 before getting a slider he could drive into the right-field corner. In his previous at-bat, Teixeira rolled a slider to first for an out.
The Braves threatened to score after Brian McCann's fly ball to center advanced Teixeira to third, but Kelly Johnson hit a fly ball to left that was too shallow to drive in the run and Mark Kotsay hit a ground ball to first to end the inning.
Kuroda enjoyed a 1-2-3 ninth that was highlighted by Angel Berroa's play at short on Greg Norton's ground ball. The right-hander struck out six, faced just one batter over the minimum and needed just 91 pitches.
"That's the best stuff we've seen this year," McCann said. "There was nothing we could do tonight to get that guy."
Kuroda was handed a loss by the Braves in Atlanta in April and they faced him in the spring, but the Braves didn't have a game plan for what came at them Monday.
"He wasn't even close to being the same pitcher," Johnson said. "I don't know where he was hiding that stuff."