Tyler Anderson left a cutter out over the plate and knew he had surrendered his first hit as soon as it left Shohei Ohtani’s bat. The resulting line drive traveled at 98.2 mph down the right-field line with one out in Wednesday’s ninth inning. Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts dove full extension, but to no avail. Ohtani had notched a triple, and Anderson’s impressive — somewhat improbable — no-hit bid had ended after a career-high 123 pitches.
“A nice gesture,” Anderson, speaking after the Dodgers’ 4-1 victory, said of Betts’ diving attempt. “But so far away.”
Anderson, the 32-year-old left-hander signed to a one-year, $8 million contract shortly after the lockout ended, reverted to an old changeup grip that makes the pitch travel more slowly and used it to induce nine of his 13 swings and misses on the night. He struck out eight batters and allowed five baserunners before Ohtani’s last plate appearance — two on walks, one on a hit by pitch and two on errors, on a near-collision between Betts and Cody Bellinger to begin the game and on Anderson’s own errant throw in the seventh.
Anderson became the first Dodgers pitcher to lose a no-hitter in the ninth inning or later since Rich Hill, who lost his no-hit bid in the 10th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Aug. 23, 2017.
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Hill (seven innings and 89 pitches on Sept. 10, 2016) and Clayton Kershaw (seven innings and 80 pitches on April 13) are the only two pitchers in major league history to complete at least seven innings and get removed with a perfect game still intact. Dave Roberts was the manager in both instances. Hill was pitching through a bad case of blisters and Kershaw was making his season debut coming off major injury, but Roberts’ divergent approach with Anderson was striking nonetheless.
“I know I have this reputation as the Grim Reaper,” Roberts said, “but I’m a sports fan, too.”
An inordinate chunk of scheduled off days prompted Anderson to take the mound with an extra day of rest and will allow him to make his next start with two extra days of rest, a major factor in Roberts’ decision to let Anderson keep pitching. The SportsNetLA cameras often caught Anderson massaging the muscles in his left arm between innings, raising concerns that he might be pitching through soreness. But Anderson chalked that up as a common occurrence for a pitcher with a prolonged injury history who’s “hyper-sensitive” to his body.
He was appreciative of the opportunity.
“You can’t say enough about that,” Anderson said. “You may never get the chance to do that again.”
Anderson had already accumulated 99 pitches when he retreated to the dugout in the middle of the seventh inning, 10 shy of his previous career high. Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior was transparent, telling him it was unlikely he’d be allowed to finish if he didn’t pitch more aggressively. Anderson returned to the mound intent on doing so. He walked the next batter he saw, but then retired three in a row on 13 pitches to finish the eighth and give himself a chance.
When he returned for the ninth, Dodger Stadium became electric, and the best part of the Angels’ lineup was due to bat.
“It felt like a really big spot in a playoff situation,” Anderson said. “The crowd was really, really into it. You can feel the energy in situations like that, and you don’t get that very often.”
Anderson struck out Mike Trout looking on a high cutter for the first out, but his next pitch was another cutter that sailed too low. Ohtani didn’t miss it. His line drive came with an expected batting average of .910 — a sure hit, in other words. It prompted Roberts to finally spill out of the dugout to take the baseball.
“This is your moment,” Roberts recalled telling him.
Anderson exited to a standing ovation from an announced crowd of 50,812 and tipped his cap, paving the way for Craig Kimbrel to record the last two outs.
The Dodgers will be without their ace, Walker Buehler, for most of what remains of this regular season because of the flexor strain he suffered on Friday. The rest of their rotation is littered with questions, related either to health or peripherals or track record. Kershaw and Julio Urias are still perfectly capable and Andrew Heaney is expected back this weekend, but Tony Gonsolin (1.42 ERA in 63 1/3 innings) and Anderson (2.82 ERA in 67 innings) have come out of nowhere to basically carry this staff.
The Dodgers signed Anderson as a depth addition, but now they truly need him.
It’s why Roberts’ decision to leave him in evolved into a high-wire balancing act.
“It’s not easy,” Roberts said. “You just gotta take the short term, the long term, the player’s health. You gotta trust the player — to a certain point, obviously, knowing that they’re always gonna wanna stay in there — and just your eyes. I’m just watching and knowing that he takes very good care of himself, and the stuff that he’s throwing out there is still holding. I just didn’t feel, in this moment, that health was compromised at all.”
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