After walking Xander Bogaerts and striking out Eduardo Núñez in the top of the seventh, Dodgers starter Rich Hill was pulled by manager Dave Roberts from an outing in which he was tossing a shutout and had allowed just one hit. L.A.’s bullpen then turned a four-run lead into a 9-6 loss, and a World Series that was all set to be tied through four games now has the Red Sox sitting on a 3-1 lead and the Dodgers dealing with all sorts of recriminations.
Roberts’s decision was undoubtedly questionable, both because Hill was pitching well and because Roberts had taxed his bullpen during Friday night’s 18-inning Game 3 win. That it echoes last year’s decision to yank Hill early during a World Series loss to the Astros only appears to make matters worse. Consider, too, who was happy about it as it was happening: “We were excited down in the bullpen, for sure,” Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly said. “Rich Hill was absolutely on fire.”
Roberts defended the move by saying that the 38-year-old Hill had expressed concerns of fatigue during the bottom of the sixth.
“I had a conversation with Rich, and we talked about it. He said ‘Keep an eye on me. I’m going to give it everything I have. Let’s go hitter to hitter and just keep an eye on me.’ So right there, I know Rich did everything he could, competed, left everything out there”
“Keep an eye on me” certainly indicates Hill didn’t think he had much left, but with a 4-0 lead on the night after Roberts had cycled through nine pitchers, Hill probably could have given up at least, say, a run or two before Roberts went to get him. Roberts doesn’t like to let Hill get himself in trouble, but Hill had pitched 7.0 innings four times during the regular season, including twice in September. Hil’s pitch count was 91 last night, and he had 11 regular-season outings with more pitches. If there was a night in which he deserved a shot to get at least try to get another out or two, this seemed to be it. Roberts obviously felt differently, even after the strikeout of Núñez.
Roberts said he wanted to match up Brock Holt, a lefty, with the left-handed reliever Scott Alexander. But Alexander walked Holt, prompting Roberts to replace him with Ryan Madson, who gave up a three-run homer to Mitch Moreland, the first batter he faced. Everything went to shit after that, with Kenley Jansen, Dylan Floro, Alex Wood, and Kenta Maeda combining to yield six more runs across the final two innings.
Hill backed Roberts after the game. “Everybody wants that chance,” he said. “But the moves that we’ve made all year have worked out. We wouldn’t have been in this position if we weren’t doing that.” That’s true, but managers ultimately get judged for these kinds of decisions. That this one backfired on Dave Roberts—thus putting the Dodgers on the brink right when they had a chance to even the World Series—will be all that gets remembered.