The baseball splashed at the feet of San Francisco Giants outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, and Dodger Stadium erupted. The Dodgers would not win this baseball game, a 4-0 defeat to the Giants, but at least they would not occupy a place in history. A two-out single in the ninth inning by Corey Seager scotched a no-hit bid by Matt Moore and allowed a moribund club a moment to rejoice.
Before Seager flicked a single into right, a prophecy appeared ready to fulfill itself. Deflated by the pregame departure of catcher A.J. Ellis, overwhelmed by Moore, the Dodgers came close to replicating the woes of last August, when they were no-hit twice en route to a division title.
"For Corey to spoil that no-hitter was good for us," Manager Dave Roberts said. "For us to win that series, it was something for us to build on."
The outcome was not predetermined. It only felt that way, after the Dodgers spent the afternoon mourning the departure of one of their favorite teammates.
The Dodgers could not treat Thursday like a normal day. A few hours before the game, the team sent Ellis to Philadelphia for catcher Carlos Ruiz. The move sideswiped Ellis, a member of the Dodgers organization since 2003.
"It was hard, really, really hard," he said before he left Dodger Stadium. "I'm almost out of tears now."
Earlier in the day, Ellis received a text asking him to come to the ballpark, he said. He bumped into Roberts in the parking lot. Roberts indicated he did not know the reason for the meeting. Ellis learned about the transaction minutes later. He said he did not ask for an explanation.
After speaking with team officials, Ellis texted his wife, his agent and Clayton Kershaw, his closest friend on the team. He asked Kershaw to meet him in the dugout they once both called home. Kershaw was "shocked," Ellis said. The two men wept together.
"Baseball's funny," Ellis said. "Anything can happen in the future. But to know that in almost all likelihood, I'll never get to catch him again is without a doubt the most devastating thing I'm feeling right now."
Ellis offered his goodbyes to his teammates. Kenley Jansen nearly broke down when he spoke with his former catcher. When pitcher Ross Stripling walked into the clubhouse, he saw a teary-eyed Ellis.
As the team prepared for the game, Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations, spoke with members of the team, trying to explain his rationale. He felt it was important to communicate with the group, even those who disagreed with the decision.
"You have to trust what the organization is doing," Jansen said. "But it's tough."
The Dodgers view Ruiz as a significant upgrade over Ellis at the plate. Ruiz will start often against left-handed pitchers. But he could not make it to Los Angeles in time for Thursday's game, when Moore toyed with his hosts.
On July 27, while still a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, Moore stymied the Dodgers across 62/3 innings and held them to one run. San Francisco acquired Moore on Aug. 1, in part, because his left-handedness projected well against the Dodgers lineup.
In the interim between then and now, Moore began experimenting with a cut fastball. The pitch handcuffed the Dodgers on Thursday, as the batters struggled to adjust.
"He was definitely pitching away from what he's been doing in the past," Adrian Gonzalez said. "We were not ready for that."
San Francisco claimed the lead with a three-run flurry in the fourth. After an RBI single by first baseman Brandon Belt, Stripling paid for a lifeless changeup to second baseman Joe Panik. The pitch floated around Panik's waist, and he responded with a two-run homer. A fourth run came an inning later, after an RBI single by Denard Span.
Moore kept churning through the Dodgers lineup. He showed signs of fatigue in the eighth. He issued a leadoff walk to Yasmani Grandal. Called in to pinch hit, Chase Utley saw 10 pitches before striking out on a changeup. Moore ended the inning at 119 pitches.
Inside his dugout, San Francisco Manager Bruce Bochy paced and grumbled. Moore had never thrown more than 120 pitches in a game. He had already undergone elbow reconstruction. But Bochy allowed him to bat in the top of the ninth.
The first man up in the bottom of the inning was Enrique Hernandez. He scaled a line drive into center field. Sliding across the grass was Span, who nabbed the baseball and earned some applause from Moore.
With two out, Seager came to the plate. The crowd rose to its feet, chanting for Seager, cheering for Moore, indulging in the drama. Moore threw his 133rd pitch, a fastball on the hands. Seager shipped it into right field.
The ballpark roared with glee. Bochy removed Moore for reliever Santiago Casilla. The game would last only one more pitch — Turner flied out — but for the Dodgers, it could have been worse.
"You don't ever want that to happen," Roberts said. "But we still won the series. So we're happy about that."