Column: Dave Roberts’ pitching change flops for Dodgers in Game 4


As Dave Roberts journeyed from the bench to the mound Saturday night, the fans in Dodger Stadium started to boo. The closer the manager moved to the mound, the louder the boos became.

The audience knew something Roberts didn’t: He was making a mistake by removing Rich Hill from the game.

Then again, the Dodgers were ahead by four runs. What in the name of Jonathan Broxton could possibly go wrong?


Plenty, it turned out.

Hill’s premature departure started a chain of events that resulted not only in the Dodgers blowing their hard-earned advantage, but allowing the Boston Red Sox to blow open the game in the ninth inning.

Defeated 9-6, the Dodgers trail the World Series three games to one. Another loss and their dreams of claiming their first championship in 30 years are over.

And if this season ends without a parade down Sunset Boulevard or Figueroa Street, Roberts will become the symbol of the franchise’s latest failure, just as Yu Darvish was the previous year.

The front office could be blamed for what happened in the eighth inning, when closer Kenley Jansen gave up a tying solo home run to Steve Pearce, or the ninth, when Dylan Floro, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda gave up five runs. Andrew Friedman and his army of assistants failed to address the team’s shortcomings in the bullpen, leaving Roberts with undesirable late-inning options.

But the call to take out Hill in the seventh inning is on Roberts.

Whatever information the analytically inclined front office provided him about Hill’s effectiveness the third time through the order, however confident the group of decision makers were in the roadmap to victory they designed, it’s Roberts who is on the bench. It’s Roberts who has to observe what’s unfolding on the field and react accordingly.

And what Roberts saw in Game 4 of the Series is what everyone else in the building saw.

Hill was dominant. Absolutely dominant.

At the time of his removal, the veteran left-hander was throwing a one-hitter and the Dodgers were ahead 4-0. The only hit charged to him was a single by catcher Christian Vazquez in the fifth inning. Not a single Red Sox reached scoring position while Hill was in the game.

And Hill had faced the most difficult portion of the Red Sox lineup for a third time. He registered the final out of the fifth inning by giving up a dangerous-looking drive to leadoff hitter Mookie Betts that was caught at the warning track by center fielder Cody Bellinger. He retired Andrew Benintendi, Pearce and J.D. Martinez in order in the sixth inning.

Roberts said he was extra careful with Hill because of something the pitcher told him before the seventh inning.

“Keep an eye on me,” Roberts recalled Hill telling him. “I’ll give you everything I have. Let’s go hitter to hitter.”

Hill confirmed the plan was to go hitter to hitter.

“I felt like I was throwing the ball well, though,” Hill said.

Asked whether he implied in his conversation with Roberts that he was exhausted, Hill replied, “Well, no, not necessarily. I just didn’t want to end up in a situation where we ended up putting the team as risk of getting us in a situation where it’s like, OK, well, one too many hitters.”

Hill ended up pitching to at least one too few.

He started the seventh inning by walking Xander Bogaerts, but recovered by striking out Eduardo Nunez.

Up next was a left-handed hitter in Brock Holt.

Hill had thrown only 91 pitches. Surely, he could have continued. And, surely, he could have retired Holt, or at least had a better chance of doing so than fellow left-hander Scott Alexander, who as excluded from the roster in the National League Championship Series.

No matter. Roberts yanked Hill.

A calamity ensued.

Alexander walked Holt on four pitches, which put runners on first and second base. That prompted Roberts to turn back to the embattled Ryan Madson. Now pitching in his fourth Series, the 38-year-old Madson was Roberts’ designated fireman, the reliever other than Jansen who was trusted the most to pitch under the most difficult of circumstances.

Only Madson had allowed seven of the last nine baserunners he inherited to score. Roberts said he didn’t have many choices, as Julio Urias and Pedro Baez were unavailable to pitch.

Madson forced pinch-hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. to pop up. He couldn’t do the same against the next pinch-hitter, Mitch Moreland.

Madson threw a changeup that stayed high in the strike zone and Moreland blasted the pitch into the right field pavilion. The three-run home run reduced the lead to 4-3. What remained of the advantage vanished in the eighth inning, when Jansen served up a home run to Pearce. A five-run inning by the Red Sox in the ninth inning turned the situation from threatening to hopeless.

An awful night was made worse when President Trump weighed in on Roberts’ performance. Trump might not know anything about civility, but evidently he knows enough about baseball to recognize Roberts messed up.

“Watching the Dodgers/Red Sox final innings,” Trump posted on his Twitter account. “It is amazing how a manager takes out a pitcher who is loose & dominating through almost 7 innings, Rich Hill of Dodgers, and brings in nervous reliever(s) who get shellacked. 4 run lead gone. Managers do it all the time, big mistake!”

Roberts smiled when he was relayed Trump’s words.

“The President said that?” Roberts said. “I’m happy he was tuning in and watching the game. I don’t know how many Dodger games he’s watched. I don’t think he was privy to the conversation. That’s one man’s opinion.”

Roberts responded well. He always has. He remains a capable and charismatic spokesman for a storied franchise. He’s also a leader who can convince a group of talented players to sacrifice their individual pursuits for the collective good. He’s just not making particularly effective decisions.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez