Dave Roberts climbed the dugout stairs, walked across the infield and, for the seventh time in his eight years as the Dodgers manager, took the ball away from a starting pitcher who had yet to give up a hit.
For perhaps the first time in the now-notorious trend, there were almost no dissenters to the decision.
In what was a largely promising performance for his postseason prospects, rookie right-hander Emmet Sheehan gave up no hits against the San Francisco Giants for the second time, following up his hitless six-inning debut against them in June by spinning 4⅔ hitless innings Thursday night.
“I think it’s mostly just getting ahead early and then knowing when to go for those chase pitches,” Sheehan said. “I think I definitely build confidence every start.”
However, in a reminder about the dangers of counting too much on young pitching, the 24-year-old failed to keep the Giants off the board, with his sterling outing coming to a screeching halt in the fifth.
First, Sheehan plunked Mike Yastrzemski to put one runner aboard. Then, he walked the next three batters he faced, forcing the Giants’ first run to cross the plate and Roberts to turn to the bullpen the rest of the way.
It wasn’t so much that Sheehan, the low-arm-slotted former sixth round draft pick, lost his command. Rather, he simply couldn’t put batters away.
In all three walks, he had a full count. On a couple occasions, he seemingly came close to an inning-ending third strike, but never got the call from the home plate umpire.
Instead, the Giants’ hitters ultimately outlasted him, extending at-bats and scattering foul balls until Sheehan — who threw 34 pitches in the inning and 93 overall, his most since July — finally ran out of gas.
“He was fantastic tonight,” Roberts said. “I think when he got to that fifth inning, there was a little bit of running low on the fuel in the tank, some close misses … But he pitched a heck of a ball game.”
In the end, the Dodgers (94-58) won more so because of the sloppy, mistake-prone play of the struggling Giants, who looked anything like a team supposedly fighting for its postseason life.
With the score tied 2-2 and Will Smith standing on third base in the bottom of the sixth, Yastrzemski appeared to forget there was only one out after making a catch in right field, delaying a throw home that allowed Smith to score with ease for a sacrifice fly.
The comedy of errors continued into the seventh.
Chris Taylor reached on a booted ground ball by third baseman J.D. Davis (who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the fifth after Sheehan’s exit, but struck out against Alex Vesia to extinguish that threat).
James Outman doubled on a line drive that first baseman Wilmer Flores failed to corral with a jump.
Then both of them scored on consecutive wild pitches from reliever Luke Jackson, effectively sealing defeat for the Giants (76-77) on a night a win would have gotten back within two games of a wild-card spot.
“[They were] gifting us some runs,” Roberts said. “Certainly, we’ll take them.”
While that was enough for the Dodgers on Thursday, they’ll likely face stiffer (or, at the very least, more competent) opposition come October.
That’s why the real story of the night was the performance from Sheehan — one of several young pitchers the Dodgers are banking on to deliver in the playoffs, hopeful their lack of experience can be overcome by youthful confidence and quality of stuff.
“Stuff certainly plays, but [we’re] also betting on young players being able to manage emotions, put the blinders on and execute pitches,” Roberts said. “Their growth, their compete, their preparation and lastly the stuff, all those components are the ingredients for postseason success.”
That’s what Sheehan put on display for the first four innings.
He not only retired his first 10 batters, but sat eight of them down on strikeouts. He erased his first baserunner, bouncing back from a fourth-inning walk by dialing up an inning-ending double-play.
And even as his outing fizzled late, Roberts was pleased with his execution and emotional control, traits that only add to Sheehan’s case to be a possible X-factor as a likely bulk-inning reliever in October.
“He’s doing his part and kind of handling himself in big spots and big innings against good opponents,” Roberts said when asked of Sheehan’s potential postseason role. “He’s right there at the top of the conversation.”
It doesn’t mean Sheehan has been perfect, as he still owns a 5.13 ERA in 12 big-league outings this season. On Thursday, he couldn’t keep the Giants scoreless, despite baffling their hitters with a deceptive mid-90s mph, late-breaking slider and hard-biting changeup.
Yet, for most of his outing, he served up the kind of dominance that, even with the inherent risks that popped up at the end of his start, the Dodgers will be seeking, and most likely needing, from their young arms to make a World Series run next month.
“Anything,” Sheehan said when asked what postseason role he felt ready for. “Anything they want me to do.”