7 Innings is Perfect…Enough
I have previously written about the excitement and anticipation of sitting in the stands watching a no-hitter. How the crowd holds its collective breath on every pitch; how the fielders focus their attention just a little more; how the manager wears a hole pacing the dugout.
For those of you paying attention to my prior writings, you know that, since 1901, there have been 252 no-hitters. However, there have only been 23 perfect games in the history of the sport. The last one happened a month before Mitt Romney uttered the phrase “47%”; and there have been seventeen no-hitters since then. Suffice it to say, the perfect game is the rare bird.
When newly-acquired Dodger Rich Hill recorded his 21st consecutive out in Miami on Saturday night, he was six outs away from perfection and a place in the history books. He was at 89 pitches – a mere pittance by MLB standards – and cruising along. This one was a no-brainer. This wasn’t Johan Santana coming off shoulder surgery, throwing 147 pitches to give the Mets their first-ever no-hitter. This was a 36-year old with a relatively fresh arm and no signs of distress.
Ah, signs of distress. Rich Hill had – as of Saturday night – pitched in only 21 games over the past two seasons, and only two with the Dodgers since he was acquired on July 31st. Why so few, you ask? Because Rich Hill is injury prone in general, and specifically, has a predisposition to blisters.
Now, for you and me, a blister is an annoyance and something that stings in the shower. For a Major League pitcher, a blister (or blisters) is/are career threatening – they keep you from executing the pitches you are paid millions of dollars to execute. And Rich Hill doesn’t have a predisposition to just one blister, but two – one that comes from throwing his fastball and one from throwing his curve. In short, blisters are Rich Hill’s kryptonite.
But on Saturday night, Rich Hill had no such blisters. Under normal circumstances, Hill would have headed to the mound for the 8th inning; in a perfect world, Dave Roberts could have sat comfortably, waiting for a hit, a walk, or a certain pitch threshold, and then yanked him. However, these are not normal circumstances, and the Dodgers don’t live in a perfect world. As of Saturday night, the Dodgers faced the following facts:
- They had 22 games left, with just a 4-game lead over the recently-surging Giants (in an even year, no less);
- The greatest pitcher on the planet has made one appearance in six weeks, and his health is a question mark;
- They have utilized 15 different starting pitchers this season;
- They currently have 6 pitchers on the DL;
- After Kershaw and Hill, the five Dodger pitchers on their depth chart have combined for a total of 64 MLB starts; and
- If Dodgers have any chance of holding off the Giants and making a deep run into October, they need a healthy Rich Hill.
Take those six pre-game factors into consideration, add to them the trainers claimed one of Hill’s blisters was “getting hot”, and that Kershaw had pitched a mere three innings the night before, and, indeed, this was a no-brainer.
If we take as gospel that the sole goal for a team is to win the World Series, Dave Roberts’ decision should be lauded. If, as many have written, there are other goals – including individual goals – that make up a season and a career, then we need to reconsider.
What would the chattering class have said if Hill completed the perfect game, but was then on the shelf for the rest of the season because of the blister(s)? Could Roberts – a first-year manager – survive that outcome? Would Dodger fans be okay with a perfect game in Miami in September, but a quick out in Washington or St. Louis in October?
One last point(s): Hill needed to record six more outs to achieve perfection. There have been thirteen perfect games spoiled by the 27th batter; ten perfect games spoiled by a fielding error; only 65.8% of perfect games through 8-2/3 have been completed; and only 73.7% have even survived as no-hitters. As of today, Hillary Clinton has a 78% chance of winning to the election. Does anyone feel super-confident about any of those odds?
Thus, a Nate Silver tip-o’-the-cap to Manager of the Year, Dave Roberts.