The comeback of Ross Stripling seemed headed for a fairy tale ending. Instead, reality intervened. And though the ending wasn’t the stuff of legend, it turned into a big win for sportsmanship, thanks to Ross’s parents.
Hayes and Tammy Stripling have been in the stands through good times and bad for their son, a rookie pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They offered support and encouragement when he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and along the road to recovery. So, when he made the Dodgers’ roster out of training camp this year, there was no way the Striplings would miss his major-league debut in San Francisco. Thanks to a couple of stellar defensive plays and Ross’s virtuoso pitching, the Dodgers held the Giants hitless while building a 2-0 lead.
“I’m a worry wart, so I finally said something to Tammy in the sixth inning, just to see if she had caught on about the no-hitter,” Hayes says. “Every pitch was amazing for us. Almost unreal.” Ross stood on the threshold of becoming the first pitcher since 1892 to throw a no-hitter in his major-league debut. But after getting the first out in the eighth, he allowed a walk. With Ross’s pitch count at 100 and a loss of velocity on his fastball, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled him from the game, a move intended to protect Ross’s long-term health. Ross’s replacement, Chris Hatcher, served up a two-run homer to the next batter, tying the game, which ended in a 3-2 Giants victory.
The Dodgers wound up making history: no other starting pitcher in baseball history had been pulled from a game in the eighth inning or later with a lead and a no-hitter, only to have his replacement give up a hit to the first batter he faced.
Media critics pounded Roberts. Ross said some of his friends were “pretty ticked off.” Like many a parent, the Striplings could have criticized the decision, which stripped their son of the chance of a lifetime. Instead …
“Our reaction was of total relief,” Hayes says. “The chance of a no-hitter with five outs left was pretty remote, and you could see that Dave wanted to win and was looking out for our son. My reaction and Tammy’s was how could we be any happier with a first outing as a major leaguer?” The next morning, Hayes spotted Roberts in the hotel lobby and felt compelled to talk to him. “I just want you to know you did absolutely the right thing,” Hayes recalls saying. Roberts responded that Hayes’ sentiment gave him chills.
“My next words were hard to get out,” Hayes says. “I was a little choked up. I said, ‘You made a friend for life by taking care of my son.’ And I thought that would be the extent of it.” That afternoon, though, Roberts told the media of the encounter, and the Striplings’ sentiments calmed the controversy. Since going viral, the story of their trust and support for a manager has become an example for parents at all levels of every sport. “We don’t feel like we did anything,” Hayes says. “I respect the tough job that coaches and managers have, and we’re lucky to see Ross succeed.”