BOTTOM OF THE EIGHTH: DODGERS 2 – 0 2 GIANTS
What!!!??? What!!!!!!!????? I can’t believe what I just saw—the sound of my own dumbfounded, screaming voice against the TV erasing all ability to comprehend, reason with, or justify what Dave Roberts just did…
Basically the same question every Dodgers fan has for Dave Roberts pic.twitter.com/4uMsq3CMWO
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 9, 2016
Let’s back up for a second.
The Dodgers starter is Ross Stripling, a 26-year-old rookie making his MLB debut, pitching against the rival San Francisco Giants, leading a team that’s cruised to a dominant 3-0 start on the year. And he’s dealing through seven innings. No hits. NO HITS!
He’s—fingers crossed—on track to become the first pitcher since Bumpus Jones one hundred and twenty-four years ago to throw a no-hitter in his first start.
And, amazingly (although 26 isn’t all that young), he’s the unquestionable league leader in acting out his given name:
New Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, another rookie of sorts, gets served maybe the hardest dilemma outside of the playoffs, one that didn’t exist before the new trend of the strict precautionary pitch count. So his decision, the moment Stripling hits 100: to pull or not to pull? That is the question.
He pulls him. He went with his word. The baseball fan in all of us booed like there was no tomorrow. (I get the reason, but man, what a bummer).
Here’s how it went down.
At the start of the 8th, streams of heavy rain coming down, the ghost of Bumpus Jones on pins and needles, roaming the infield of AT&T Park, crossing his fingers at the pitcher who might steal his ancient thunder, hoping his name can still keep its measly spot in the worthless-but-still-eternal annals of baseball trivia, for even just one more day.
Stripling gets an eager Brandon Crawford to pop up to Puig in right-center.
Angel Pagan comes up next. Five outs to go for the no-no. The casual MLB fan starts seeing the gameday alerts, MLB Network switches over to the live broadcast. We’ve got breaking news on our hands.
I’m ready, I’m stoked. I’m also sure this won’t actually happen. Three walks on the night, good but not unbeatable stuff, a sudden drop in command, and now a 3-1 count to Pagan—a not too pretty vault into history.
He walks him. Pagan flips the bat back toward the dugout, runs to first.
So here’s the moment, the pitch count tracker flipping from double to triple digits, the rain coming down even harder, and Dave Roberts deciding whether to lift his knee and take the first step out of the dugout, out to tell Stripling what he’ll hate to say—we’ve gotta pull you.
It’s the first real decision of his managing career, and it’s a huge one. But the dude stole on Mariano with the ’04 season, the curse, the hearts of the Boston fanbase on the line. The dude’s got some serious stones.
Roberts pulls him. Bullpen time. Question and attack and berate the manager time. Even the Giants fans are booing the decision.
Stripling puts his glove over his mouth and shouts to himself something I probably shouldn’t repeat, shaking his head, calmly handing Roberts the ball, too young/respectful to let anything other than cooperation show.
He’s soon back in the dugout, smiling that I can’t believe it, but all I can do is shake it off and pretend like it’s okay smile, a numb reception of high-fives and pats on the back from every teammate.
And then, back on the mound, Chris Hatcher comes in, against rookie Trevor Brown. A quick fastball, right down the middle for a strike, Stripling clapping him on in the hope for a consolation W.
One more fastball down the middle. Brown demolishes it to left-center. Tie game, 2-2.
The place goes wild: joy, disbelief, and a big round of derisive cheers, with rain-soaked orange and black towels being spun all around AT&T Park.
— Cryson Tiller (@blowsob) April 9, 2016
It’s Trevor Brown’s first career home run—the gods of excellent rookie performances giveth, and then taketh away. Stripling is blue, Brown is on cloud nine.
“Damn!” Stripling shouts in the dugout, a broad frown spreading past both cheeks.
Hatcher stays in the game, his composure cracked. A close pitch gets called outside, and puts his glove down and strides toward the umpire at home, throwing his arms up like a wrestling taunt—You wanna go??
Home plate ump Jeff Kellogg pulls off his mask and barks back with his finger raised, like Richard Vernon in “The Breakfast Club,” threatening yet another Saturday detention.
Dave Roberts comes out to argue.
Jeff Kellogg: Don’t mess with the bull, young man, you’ll get the horns.
Dave Roberts: Eat. My. Shorts.
JK: What was that?
DR: Eat. My. Shorts!!
JK: You just bought yourself an ejection, young man.
DR: Ooh, I’m crushed.
JK: You just bought one more. You want another one? I’ve got you for the rest of your natural born life if you don’t watch your step. You want another ejection?
JK: You got it! You got another one right there pal!
Chase Utley: Cut it out!
JK: You through?
DR: Not. Even. Close, bud!
JK: You’re mine, Roberts.
And at this point Kellogg contorts his fingers into the shape of a long-horn bull, striding proudly back to home plate the victor.
With no more dissent, no more shaky control, Hatcher gets out of the inning.
In the bottom of the 10th, in the late, after-rain chill of a still-tied ballgame, Brandon Crawford hits a walk-off home run for the win, the finishing touch on the nightmare that very nearly was Ross Stripling’s historic day in the sun.
And so the memory of Bumpus Jones lives on, at least for another day.
Until next time, Stripling.