Few, if any, events in sports are more compelling and attention-worthy as a perfect game. Pitchers will push themselves through anything to be one of the select few to be eternally enshrined in the record books for completing one of baseball’s rarest and most impressive feats. However, managers may not be so inclined to witness a perfect game by any means necessary.
On Sept. 10, left-handed journeyman Rich Hill had a chance of immortality that most pitchers only dream of, before his boss took the opportunity away. The southpaw had a “perfecto” through seven innings in his third game for the Los Angeles Dodgers after a recent trade. After throwing 89 pitches, skipper Dave Roberts lifted a visibly upset Hill in favor of reliever Joe Blanton to start the eighth inning.
With four outs to go for a combined perfect game, Jeff Francoeur of the Miami Marlins singled to break up the bid. Never before had a pitcher been taken out during a perfect game bid of at least six innings, so Roberts’ decision was immediately questioned and dissected. He was by no means in an enviable position, as he had to balance the health of his pitcher with the potential of a grand but ultimately singular feat.
The decision made Roberts sick, and it will give him little solace to know it was the right choice. The Dodgers are relying on Hill in order to win the organizations’ first World Series since 1988. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on earth, but he has suffered from October mediocrity. Rookie Kenta Maeda has impressed in his first year out of Japan, but he should not be burdened with carrying the entire team. Hill can bring stability to the rest of the rotation that has been a revolving door of familiar names frequently getting injured.
The 95 major league innings Hill has compiled this season is the most since he tallied 195 innings in 2007. In the eight seasons in between, Hill pitched a total of 182 below average innings in the big leagues.
In his two previous games, Hill threw six innings of shutout ball, allowing only one hit in his second outing in Dodger blue. In 19 innings with the Dodgers, Hill has surrendered six hits and no runs. Including his time with the Oakland Athletics, Hill sits at 12-3 for the season with a spectacular but unsustainable 1.80 ERA.
Roberts has experience pulling a starter during a no-hit outing. In the first week of the season, the Dodgers’ skipper yanked Ross Stripling in the eighth inning of his major league debut, despite the rookie having held the Giants hitless to that point.
Dave Roberts took a gamble and took his pitcher out during a perfect game bid. The perfect game was no guarantee and yanking Hill may have been his hardest move of the season, but it was much better than the alternative for Roberts.