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Walker Buehler’s Three Innings Off

Enough about Trump, Cohen, Giuliani, and the Democrats’ prospects in November. Let’s discuss what’s really important: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts should have let Walker Buehler, who had a no-hitter after six innings, stay in the game until he gave up a hit.

Walker Buehler

On Friday, Buehler, Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Liberatore teamed up to pitch a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. The game was played in Monterrey, Mexico. It was only the 12th combined (more than one pitcher) no-hitter in Major League history and the first in Dodgers history.

Buehler is a 23-year old rookie. He was making his third start of his career. He struck out 8 and only walked 3 batters in six innings. But after he’d thrown 93 pitchers in six innings, Roberts took Buehler out of the game.

According to Orange County Register reporter Bill Plunkett, “There was no way Roberts was going to risk the franchise’s valuable asset by letting him go any farther even in pursuit of a no-hitter.” Plunkett reminds readers that Roberts “pulled Ross Stripling in the eighth inning of Stripling’s major-league debut with a no-hitter going and Rich Hill after seven perfect innings, both during the 2016 season.”

The article quotes Buehler saying “I wanted to keep going,” but doesn’t say how hard he argued with Roberts, if at all, to keep him in the game.

Roberts should have let Buehler stay in the game until he gave up a hit. Few pitchers throw no-hitters. It is a rare event. There have only been 23 no-hitters in the Dodgers’ entire history.

In my view, Roberts should have let Buehler stay in the game until he gave up a hit. Few pitchers throw no-hitters. It is a rare event. There have only been 23 no-hitters in the Dodgers’ entire history. The Dodgers had a 4-0 lead in the 6th inning. So even if Buehler had given up a walk and a home run in the 7th inning, and then been pulled out of the game, the Dodgers would still have had a 4-2 lead. (They won the game 4-0).

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I know that some fans will say that Roberts had to do what was good for the team, not for one player, even if he was working on a no-hitter. All managers now have pitching charts that show at what point in a typical game (in terms of pitches thrown) each pitcher starts to fade. Yes, 93 pitches after six innings is a lot. But if Buehler thought he had the strength and stamina to continue pitching, Roberts should have let him stay on the mound until he gave up his first hit. If he could have pitched another three innings to earn a likely once-in-a-lifetime no-hitter, he should have been given the chance.

Roberts’ decision to pull Buehler reflects the increasing use of statistics to make personnel decisions in terms of constructing a team roster and managing games. As reflected in the book and film, “Money Ball,” the introduction of computers triggered a dispute between managers who made decisions by instinct and those that began utilizing statistics to evaluate different players and game situations.

The most notorious blunder among the traditionalists occurred in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS that pitted the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez was on the mound for the Red Sox, who were leading 5-2 in the middle of the 8th inning. The right-handed Martinez had already thrown 100 pitches.

Red Sox manager Grady Little knew that Martinez’s effectiveness typically diminished after 100 pitches, but the pitcher persuaded Little to let him start the bottom half of the eighth inning. He got Nick Johnson to lead off the inning with a pop out to shortstop. But then Derek Jeter doubled and Bernie Williams singled, driving in Jeter. This prompted Little to walk out to the mound intending to bring in a left-handed relief pitcher to face Hideki Matsui, a left-handed hitter.

But Martinez convinced Little that he still had more gas in his tank, so Little kept him in the game. Martinez gave up back-to-back doubles, tying the game at five. At that point, Little pulled the plug. The Yankee’s star reliever Mariano Rivera came in for the ninth and pitched three shutout innings. In the bottom of the 11th inning, Red Sox reliever Tim Wakefield gave up a walk-off home run to the Yankees Aaron Boone. The Yankees, instead of the Red Sox, went to the World Series.

No doubt the ghost of Grady Little was haunting Dave Roberts when he decided to remove Buehler from Friday’s game. Even so, it was a mistake. This wasn’t a play-off or World Series game. And Roberts could have pulled Buehler if he gave up one hit. The combined no-hitter among four pitchers is a nice accomplishment. But Buehler deserved a chance to see if he could done it on his own.

peter dreier

Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College