MIAMI -- Fifty-one years and a day after Sandy Koufax pitched the last perfect game in franchise history, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put health before history and wouldn't let Rich Hill try to finish his.
Roberts, willing to remove Ross Stripling from a no-hitter in the eighth inning of his April debut, stopped Hill from going out for the eighth with a long conversation in the runway behind the dugout during the Dodgers' 5-0 win on Saturday over the Marlins.
After waiting five weeks for Hill's blisters to heal and with the postseason three weeks away, Roberts wouldn't put Hill's personal achievement ahead of the team's future.
Roberts said he acted, in part, on information from the training staff that "there was heat on Hill's left index finger, and it was starting to get tender." Hill disputed this, saying he didn't notice any problem with his finger.
Otherwise, Hill took the high road and deflected questions that could have put him at odds with his manager, even though his body language after their in-game chat told otherwise.
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"I understand," Hill said. "I hold Dave in the highest regard. He's in a tough position. I get it. I'm very adamant about living in the moment. I didn't want to come out of the game, right? But there's a bigger picture here, and we all know what it is. Put Dave in a very difficult position. Something you look at it and move on. That's all you can do. We're in the middle of this race and continue to move forward, that's the best way I can put it."
Roberts agonized over explaining why he became the first manager since at least 1900, per the Elias Sports Bureau, to remove a pitcher from a perfect game after seven innings, even though Roberts was already warming up Grant Dayton when Hill came to bat in the top of the seventh. Hill was also the first Dodgers starting pitcher to throw seven perfect innings since Hiroki Kuroda on July 7, 2008.
Clayton Kershaw threw the last no-hitter for the Dodgers on June 18, 2014, against Colorado. Jeff Francoeur broke up this one in the bottom of the eighth with a single off Joe Blanton.
"I feel sick to my stomach," is how Roberts began his post-game news conference, explaining that he "weighed the risk versus the opportunity" in making his decision.
"For me, talking to the training staff and getting their advice, just weighing it all out, it's what's best for Rich and the Dodgers," Roberts said. "It's the toughest thing I've had to do, but I know it was for the reason of giving us the best chance to win a World Series. A lot of fans in Los Angeles are really upset with me, I'm sure."
Of course, had Hill reinjured the finger in the eighth or ninth innings, Roberts would have had a whole series of even tougher questions to answer. Roberts mentioned the training staff several times in describing his thought process, as well as the effects of the Florida humidity on blisters, the fact that Hill will be pitching on regular rest for the first time as a Dodger in his next start and that the last time Hill went into triple digits in pitches, he sustained the first blister with Oakland and spent the next five weeks on the disabled list.
Roberts acknowledged that Hill was upset when told he was done, "and rightfully so." Roberts had a similar dilemma on April 8, when he took Stripling out of his Major League debut, having pitched 7 1/3 no-hit innings, after he issued his fourth walk. The next batter, Gary Brown, homered off Chris Hatcher to tie the game, so Stripling didn't even get the win.
"For me, he got to 89 pitches and knowing it's been months since he's been over that," Roberts said. "Envisioning potentially 110 pitches to get through the game, there's nothing in my opinion that's worth compromising our opportunity this year to win a championship. We acquire Rich at the [Trade] Deadline and see how dominant he is, I'm very sensitive to personal achievement, but nothing should compromise or get in the way of the team goal."