Dave Roberts bounded up the steps of the Dodgers dugout and strode toward the mound. In the sixth inning of the team's 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants, Roberts made a concession to his team's extraordinary place in the standings and their larger goal for October. Rich Hill had thrown 86 pitches. For this day, for this inconsequential game in a summer that figures to include dozens more, that was enough.
Hill disagreed with the decision; no pitcher enjoys departing midway through an inning. But he did not object. He acknowledged the bigger picture as he stood by his locker, soon after the Dodgers (73-31) finished their seventh victory in a row.
"I totally understand," Hill said. "There's a lot of season left. It would have been great [to stay in], but overall, we played extremely well today."
It was an understated victory. There were no late-game dramatics or come-from-behind heroics. Hill (8-4) gave up one run and two hits in 5 2/3 innings. Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger produced the two runs. Seager doubled twice to set up two run-scoring singles by Bellinger.
In San Francisco, the Dodgers faced a wounded, limited opponent. The Giants reside in last place in the National League West. They lack power and speed. The Dodgers did not take pity on them. Instead, the pitching staff held them to four hits, with two singles yielded by Kenley Jansen en route to his 27th save. Since June 7, the team is 38-6, which translates to the best 44-game stretch in franchise history.
"It's been crazy how well we've been playing these past couple months," Bellinger said. "It's been pretty special. Hopefully we can keep it going."
The team will attempt to sweep the Giants on Sunday evening. A day later, a more intriguing event looms. The non-waiver trade deadline arrives at 1 p.m. PDT on Monday, while the Dodgers are expected to be flying to Atlanta to start a three-city trip. Roberts expects to utilize the in-flight Wi-Fi to keep tabs on his team's maneuvers.
The Dodgers are believed to be targeting a trio of pitchers — Texas starter Yu Darvish, Oakland starter Sonny Gray and Baltimore reliever Zach Britton — while keeping tabs on other arms on the block, according to people familiar with the situation. The team has yet to show much willingness to part with top prospects like pitcher Walker Buehler or outfielder Alex Verdugo, who may be necessary if the team wants to consummate a trade for an elite talent.
Time will tell on whether the prices drop or the Dodgers budge — or the front office devises a more creative solution. Until then, the current 25-man roster rolls along, without much worry or much struggle.
"We're relentless every single day," Hill said. "In the lineup, on the mound, and out on the field. It's been a lot of fun."
Hill inherited a lead after the first inning. The Dodgers produced a run against Ty Blach. Seager doubled. Justin Turner walked. Bellinger pounced on a flat changeup for a run-scoring single. A chance at a bigger rally fizzled when Yasiel Puig grounded into a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded and one out.
Puig made up for the at-bat soon after returning to the field. Catcher Buster Posey hit a 91-mph fastball down the right-field line. Puig sprinted toward the baseball and sprawled across his backside to catch it. He skidded to a stop against the wall. Back near the mound, Hill raised both arms to salute his teammate.
"Yasi's catch was great out there," Hill said.
The heart of the order produced again in the third inning. Seager hit a belt-high fastball off the wall for a double. Turner hit a flyball to center field deep enough for Seager, unbothered by outfielder Denard Span's arm, to take third. Bellinger bounced a grounder through the drawn-in infield, as the baseball skipped past first baseman Jae-Gyun Hwang for a run-scoring single.
Hill retired the first 11 batters he faced. The 12th was Hunter Pence, a three-time All-Star who began Saturday with only six homers in 83 games. His seventh came in the fourth inning.
Hill attacked Pence with fastballs at the start. Pence swung through one and fouled off a few others. With the count at 2 and 2, Hill tried a curveball. The pitch hung over the plate. Pence hit it over the fence in left field.
After the homer, Hill slithered through a jam in the fifth, when Chris Taylor misplayed a hit by outfielder Gorkys Hernandez into a double with an extra base on the error. Hill kept the Dodgers ahead by striking out Blach. Roberts commended Hill for harnessing his fastball command as the day progressed.
"Just made that mistake to Pence, but outside of that, he was very good," Roberts said.
Hill retired the first two batters in the sixth. With Pence coming to bat and Hill's pitch count at 86, Hill saw Roberts walking onto the field to retrieve him. Pedro Baez finished the inning. Pence flied out at the warning track as Hill watched from the dugout.
"It was a great team win," he said.