The baseball gods have been fickle to Rich Hill. The sport has given him opportunities many aspire too, but very few ever receive. Last night was a “perfect” example of this. Hill got close to something that only 23 men in history have ever achieved – Baseball Perfection.
Of course, baseball is a team sport. No man can pitch a perfect game without help. Even if one managed to strike out every batter he faced, a pitcher most likely wouldn’t be able to hang a “W” on the scoreboard without offensive support from his teammates. We all know that, but who knew how much a manager could figure into the mix?
Twice Rich Hill has been close to a perfect game victory. He’s been so close, he could probably taste it. Unfortunately, both times his manager, Dave Roberts, tipped the scales away from Hill’s chances at the once in a lifetime victory.
Last September, Rich Hill was well on his way to a perfect game when Roberts pulled him after seven innings. Hill was just six outs away, but his manager yanked him off the mound because of worries that a blister on his finger might be re-aggravated, and that would sideline Hill. Roberts and his coaching staff made a tough decision with the bigger picture in mind. Hill would be needed for the playoffs, and the team’s needs outweighed those of any individual’s personal baseball resume. At the time, a lot of us felt Rich Hill was good enough that he just might get another chance.
Last night that second chance arose. This time Hill was on a roll like no Dodger pitcher has been on all season. Alex Wood went 11 – 0 at one point. Kenta Maeda even dabbled with perfection for half a game a few days ago. This one was different. The Pirates kept sending up batters, and Hill kept sending them back to the dugout shaking their heads. At one point, a Bucs batter angrily shouted at Hill after striking out, as though what he was doing to them just wasn’t fair.
It turned out what really wasn’t fair was Dave Roberts’ game-strategy.
Was the skipper just as hypnotized by Hill’s pitching as the Pirates and the rest of us who were watching the game? Why, oh why, didn’t he realize – and more importantly, why didn’t he act – on the magnitude and seriousness of the situation as the game got into the final two innings?
Roberts knew the Dodgers’ offense had done nothing all night with runners in scoring position. He had to know his offense needed a spark to get things going. Yet the best hitter in the National League sat on the bench all night.
He also knew he had pulled Hill away from a perfect game once before, and this was a chance to even things out. He had to know Hill deserved the best defensive alignment behind him with the pressure mounting and perfection at stake. Yet the team’s best third baseman sat on the bench all night.
The Dodgers’ last chance to score, in regulation innings, came in the top of the eighth. The Dodgers had two men on, but it was hardly a rally. Curtis Granderson had walked, and Yasiel Puig was hit by a pitch. There were two out and Logan Forsythe was due up. He doubled in his previous at bat, but that was Forsythe’s first hit after getting beaten by Bucs pitcher Trevor Williams twice earlier.
Forsythe has been climbing out of a slump, but in this situation, why not call on one of the best bats on the team? Roberts left Justin Turner sitting on the bench and allowed Forsythe to hit. The trouble was, he didn’t. Forsythe batted one right at the shortstop – inning over. The Dodgers remained scoreless.
The skipper had one more crucial decision to make before he sent his team out on the field in support of Hill’s perfect game. Should he continue to leave his best third baseman riding the pine, in the ninth inning, with baseball history on the line?
He sent the second-best choice out to the hot corner, and as the fickle fates of baseball would have it, the first ball put into play went right to Forsythe, who provided Hill with the second-best defense available. Forsythe booted the ball into the air for an E, and Rich Hill ended up with an L.
The first time Hill had a perfect game within reach, Roberts made an executive decision for the good of the team, because the remainder of the season, and the postseason, were at stake. This time it was a game that wasn’t critical for either of those ends. It didn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of the season, and that pesky blister was far in the past.
This game arguably mattered most to the man on the mound. This was Rich Hill’s second chance at baseball immortality…and the skipper didn’t make the moves that would have shored him up. He didn’t do everything in his power to make sure this time, his pitcher had all the support he needed.
What do you think the chances are that Rich Hill ever gets that close to perfection again?