LOS ANGELES -- There was one out left on Wednesday -- just one final obstacle remaining -- when emotion finally caught up with catcher A.J. Ellis.
He could see through the tears welling in his eyes -- 60 feet and six inches in front of him -- his best friend in the game, his batterymate for the last seven years and, in his mind, the best pitcher in the Major Leagues standing on the mound, gearing up for one last batter. His friend was on the cusp of making history, of throwing the Dodgers' 22nd no-hitter in an 8-0 win over the Rockies.
It was time. Ellis composed himself just long enough to put down the last four signs he'd need to put down, to catch the last four pitches he'd need to catch before he'd be able to toss his mask to the side, then walk, then sprint, then embrace Clayton Kershaw as their teammates swarmed around them.
The last pitch: a swing and a miss, a slider to Corey Dickerson that emptied the dugout and sent all of the Dodgers swarming onto the field, around the arm-locked battery at the center of the Dodger Stadium diamond.
"It's pretty emotional," Ellis said after the raucous, excited Dodgers had filtered into the clubhouse. "It's really special. It's my best friend in all of baseball, and all of the work he did -- it was just really great for me; I was just hoping I'd put down the right fingers for the Dickerson at-bat.
"It's something I'll never forget."
For a team that has been markedly looser of late -- from dance parties to a celebratory dugout bubble machine -- Wednesday night provided the ultimate release. After the players swarmed onto the field, they continued to swarm into the underbelly of Dodger Stadium, dousing Kershaw with champagne in the clubhouse shower.
It was a release of genuine emotion -- and not just from Ellis. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who threw away a ball on a tough play with no outs in the seventh inning, spoiling Kershaw's bid for perfection, said the left-hander approached him after that play, telling him he appreciated his effort. Ramirez said that moment epitomized how great a teammate and person Kershaw is.
There was even a redness to manager Don Mattingly's eyes as he approached the postgame dais. It was clear Kershaw's momentous outing had affected him deeply.
"You know what's cool about tonight?" Mattingly said. "It's that all these guys sit out there and watch him. Because I think when you talk to our guys, nobody deserves it more than him, because they know he works hard every day and he does things the right way."
There wasn't a single player in the clubhouse who disagreed.
"He's an incredible worker," first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "He's always working to be the best.
"And that's why he is the best."
As the outs and hitless innings mounted, Kershaw distanced himself from his teammates on the dugout bench -- a common practice for superstitious pitchers in the middle of such an outing. But Mattingly and Ellis said that's how Kershaw is on a normal day -- incredibly focused and intense, locked into what he needs to do on the mound. He acts as though every start is a potential no-hitter, Ellis said.
"Nothing's going to change -- that's what's great about him," Ellis said. "He's a two-time -- should be three-time -- Cy Young Award winner. He's the highest-paid pitcher in all of baseball right now, but it doesn't change who he is as a person, and that's what's great about him. He has one goal -- to compete, win and win championships."
Ellis said it was business as usual in the dugout between him and his ace. They were still talking strategy even in the bottom of the eighth, as the final inning neared, discussing how to approach Rockies third baseman Charlie Culberson, who would bat for Colorado in the pitcher's spot.
As for Ellis, his mind was on the postgame celebration, plotting how he would react should he be fortunate enough to catch a historic last pitch. When right-hander Josh Beckett threw his no-hitter in Philadelphia on May 25, Ellis jumped and landed on Drew Butera's discarded catcher's mask, spraining his ankle and landing on the 15-day disabled list.
He wasn't going to make the same mistake this time, and he approached Kershaw with great care.
"That was a conscious decision," he said. "It was actually made in about the sixth inning. I kind of predetermined what I was going to do just in case. I decided not to leave earth. I went straight in for the hug, stayed in for the embrace."
And then, right there -- in the middle of the Dodger Stadium diamond -- Ellis locked arms with the best friend he's ever made in the game.
Michael Lananna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.