By Ben Leonard
SAN FRANCISCO– With a bagel in the hit column in the eighth inning and the rain pouring down, it wasn’t over for the Giants. Or their fans.
Rain wasn’t the only thing showering down onto the field at AT&T Park — boos dumped down onto the field as Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts strutted out to the mound, confident in his decision. As soon as you knew it, Ross Stripling was walking back to the dugout, head high. With five outs to go. In his major league debut.
It had felt hopeless. Matt Cain had pitched well, but the offense looked lost, down 2-0. Stripling was about to do something no one had done since 1892 — throw a no-hitter in their debut. But once Stripling was comfortably in the dugout, the chants started coming. “BEAT LA, BEAT LA,” the crowd roared,
But once Stripling was comfortably in the dugout, the chants started coming. “BEAT LA, BEAT LA,” the crowd roared, rumbling the foundation of AT&T Park. A few pitches later, the park erupted, along with Roberts. Another rookie had just done the unthinkable — Trevor Brown tied the game with the first hit of the game, a two-run homer, turning the game into an instant classic. It felt like fate.
After he had thrown 100 pitches, Roberts made the sensible decision in not wanting to put Stripling’s “future in jeopardy” — Stripling had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and didn’t more than 93 pitches last season in the minors. At least to the media, Stripling agreed: “As far as getting taken out, I think it was the right choice. I was tired.”
But the damage was already done. The crowd had exploded, and there was no way the Giants were going to lose. Los Angeles’ balloon had been deflated, trampled, and torn by one majestic swing of Brown’s bat that sent the ball into the sea of orange that is the bleachers.
With everyone in the stadium and across the nation wrongly calling for Roberts’ head, there was only one thing he could do — vent. A couple unremarkable ball-and-strike calls later, Roberts was mouthing off at home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg. Pretty soon, Kellogg gave Roberts a lot of time to think in the showers. That’s what happens when you stop history in the making.
After that, it was inevitable that the Giants would win — it was just a matter of when. And naturally, it came on Roberts’ next key pitching change. Joe Blanton came in to start the tenth, and got a quick hook — a Brandon Crawford line drive homer to left after two pitches ended his night almost as soon as it started. A mob of orange forms at home plate, absorbing Crawford like an anemone. All of that rain and frustration forgotten, in just two swings.
Just as forgotten was Cain’s encouraging outing — six strong innings, matching Stripling frame for frame except for a rocky fifth. Cain gave up six hits on the day, and four of them happened to come in that frame. Almost got Cained. And Stripling almost threw a no-no. Funny how these things work out.