LOS ANGELES — The Great Rich Hill Debate spilled over into the hours leading up to Sunday night’s Game 5 of the World Series at Chavez Ravine.
And if the Dodgers end up losing to the Red Sox, it is sure to live well beyond this Fall Classic.
That’s the fallout from playing on the October stage. Moves that are made hundreds of times during the regular season — bad or good — get absorbed in the vast landscape of the six-month grind. They’re talked about for a while, then we move on to the next thing.
Earlier this month, Aaron Boone took most of the heat for the Yankees’ first-round exit at the hands of the Red Sox, primarily for his bullpen management. In Game 3, Boone stayed too long with CC Sabathia. The next night, his patience cost him again with Luis Severino. The result was a pair of losses and an early vacation for the Yankees.
Now it’s the Dodgers who are facing elimination, and Dave Roberts was dealing with similar scrutiny for his curious Game 5 decision to lift a rolling Rich Hill after 6 1/3 scoreless innings and 91 pitches, knowing he had a depleted bullpen. In that same seventh, reliever Ryan Madson teed up an awful changeup that Mitch Moreland whacked into the rightfield bleachers for a three-run homer that trimmed the Dodgers’ lead to 4-3.
Closer Kenley Jansen, called on for a six-out save, surrendered a tying homer to Steve Pearce in the eighth and Dylan Floro gave up the go-ahead single to Rafael Devers in the ninth as the Red Sox stunned L.A. with the 9-6 victory. None of Roberts’ bullpen moves worked, but the one that keyed Boston’s improbable comeback was lifting Hill.
Based on the brevity of rotation cameos this October, seeing Hill make it that far was a minor miracle. Combine that with a manager’s preference to pull starters too early rather than too late, and what Roberts did shouldn’t have been shocking. His postgame explanation, however, raised eyebrows, as Roberts said Hill told his manager “to keep an eye on him,” a message Roberts took as a signal he was fading.
Before Sunday’s Game 5, Roberts was asked for further clarification. That’s when the manager went into further detail, about how he didn’t signal for lefty Scott Alexander right away, suggesting he might stick with Hill. But then the pitcher met him on the slope of the mound, which to Roberts felt like a concession, based on the chat they had earlier about going “hitter to hitter” for the seventh inning.
“As a manager, you have to listen,” Roberts said Sunday. “And I think that any manager can leave a player — particularly a pitcher — in there until it doesn’t go well. And I think that that’s the easy thing to do. But when you have a conversation with a player that you’ve never had before in the dugout prior to going back out there, I think that’s telling. And when you go out to the mound and are given the ball after, with not signaling in, I think that’s telling, as well.”
After Roberts doubled down Sunday, it was only natural to go back to Hill, and he denied asking out of Game 4 when Roberts appeared. But Hill did acknowledge giving him a heads-up to be vigilant.
“I think what’s happening is that this is being misinterpreted,” Hill said in front of the Dodgers’ dugout. “I’ve never wanted to come out of a game, but in this moment, you have to think selflessly. All I meant by that was if there’s a better option [in the bullpen], I’m not going to disagree or fight with him on that. Not that I want to come out of the game or I’m tired.”
As for greeting Roberts on the slope, and turning over the baseball, Hill didn’t put any significance on that. It’s just what he always does.
“I’m not going to be disrespectful,” Hill said.
If Madson did his job, or Jansen, or Floro, this debate would have dissolved in the wake of the Dodgers evening the World Series at two wins apiece. Instead, Roberts was pounded by the media, as well as the White House, with President Trump tweeting Saturday night that the manager made a “big mistake!”
“I think that there’s a lot of thoughts and opinions that people don’t have all the information, which is commonplace these days,” Roberts said “So I think for me, it’s noise. I really don’t have too much bandwidth to really take in all the criticism.”
Anything short of a title for the Dodgers, and it won’t go away.