December 11, 2023

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.

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.

After getting two quick outs — including his career-high ninth strikeout of the night — Sheehan plunked Mike Yastrzemski with a pitch, then walked the next three batters, forcing home a run.

It wasn’t so much that Sheehan lost his command. Rather, he simply couldn’t put batters away. In all three walks, he had a full count. But all three times, the hitter outlasted him, scattering foul balls until Sheehan finally missed the zone.

Despite Sheehan’s early exit, the Dodgers still coasted to a 7-2 win against a sloppy, mistake-prone, struggling Giants team fighting for a postseason spot.

With the game tied 2-2 in the sixth, Giants center fielder Tyler Fitzgerald couldn’t come up with a diving effort on a line drive from Will Smith, leading to a triple. In the next at-bat, right fielder Yastrzemski appeared to forget there was only one out after making a catch, delaying a throw home that allowed Smith to score with ease.

The comedy of errors didn’t stop there.

In the seventh, Yastrzemski made a nice running catch for the first out. But then, Chris Taylor reached on an error by third baseman J.D. Davis (who had entered as a pinch-hitter in the fifth following Sheehan’s exit, but struck out against Alex Vesia to extinguish that threat). First baseman Wilmer Flores failed to catch a line drive by James Outman, leading to a double.

And then, on a night the Giants could have gotten back within two games of a wild-card spot, they effectively sealed a defeat by giving up two insurance runs on back-to-back wild pitches by reliever Luke Jackson.

For a team with a reputation for self-inflicted damage, the Giants somehow were worse than advertised.

And while that was enough for the Dodgers to win, they’ll likely face stiffer (or, at the very least, more competent) opposition come October.

That’s why the real story of the game was the performance from Sheehan — who seems likely to pitch bulk innings out of the bullpen in the playoffs, perhaps in a piggyback role behind one of the short-leashed starters.

If he can replicate his performance over the first four innings Thursday, it could make him an X-factor for the short-handed staff.

But given the pitfalls he suffered in the fifth, he also could be a warning sign about the patchwork pitching plan.

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