Ryan Pepiot wasn’t supposed to be flirting with history Thursday night.
When the week began, he wasn’t even supposed to be pitching for the Dodgers on this trip in the first place.
But just as the team’s season was turned on its head Monday, when news broke that staff ace Julio Urías had been arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence, so too were its plans for Pepiot.
Not only did the rookie right-hander rejoin the club on short notice to start in Urías’ place. But, in an auspicious October audition in the Dodgers’ 10-0 win, he delivered seven dominant innings in a shutout outing — one that, for a while, seemed to be destined for much more.
When Pepiot took the mound at the start of the seventh at loanDepot Park in Miami, he had retired all 18 Marlins batters who had come to the plate.
With his pitch count under 70, he had an unlikely perfect game squarely in his sights.
“Everyone was sliding by me [in the dugout],” Pepiot said with a laugh postgame. “No one would sit anywhere near me.”
Read more: Witness alerted park police about altercation that led to Julio Urías’ arrest
For a brief moment, the finish line creeped into sight.
National League batting leader Luis Arraez was robbed of a hit by second baseman Amed Rosario to lead off the inning, when the 6-foot-2 infielder leapt to snare a line drive headed for the right-field grass.
Blossoming slugger Jake Burger was retired next, hitting a deep drive to center that died in the mitt of Kiké Hernández.
But, on his 80th throw of the night, Pepiot unleashed a changeup that veteran switch-hitter Josh Bell got just enough of. With a flailing swing, the Marlins designated hitter sent a two-hopper whizzing past Pepiot — who stabbed for a ball that was just out of his reach — and up the middle for a single.
“I was kind of hoping he would whiff on that one,” Pepiot said. “But it snuck through.”
Pepiot said his first reaction was “a little bit of disappointment,” hanging his head as Bell reached first base.
But then, the 26-year-old right-hander looked up and soaked in his surroundings, where a large contingent of traveling Dodger fans, as well as every one of his teammates in the dugout, were standing in applause of his career-best display.
“I was gonna give him every opportunity to finish that game if it was a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game,” said manager Dave Roberts, who infamously removed Rich Hill from a perfect game in Miami seven years ago because of a blister on his finger.
“[Pepiot] is big, he’s physical, he was staying in his delivery,” Roberts added. “He didn’t have blood dripping from his finger. I didn’t have trainers telling me to take him out of the game. So, no. It was his game.”
Though Pepiot couldn’t complete the perfecto — he retired his next batter before finishing his outing with 84 pitches — his performance was still a release for a Dodgers team in the middle of a burdensome week.
In addition to Urías’ absence, which could extend for the rest of the year, the team had lost five of its previous six games. The offense had gone cold with runners in scoring position. And the pitching staff had seen both Clayton Kershaw and Lance Lynn struggle in losses to open the series.
As a result, a sudden spotlight was cast over young Dodgers pitchers such as Pepiot and Friday’s starter Emmet Sheehan. Where they once seemed like surplus pieces in the team’s October plans, they might now fill ancillary roles come the postseason.
“For all these guys, [they need to] just go out there and compete,” Roberts said pregame, noting that the team’s evaluation of those pitchers — a group that also includes Gavin Stone and Michael Grove — could change “a good bit” between now and their likely NLDS opener on Oct.7.
“With all these guys, there’s not enough of a sample of history to sort of hang your hat on,” Roberts added. “I think that if you’re pitching well in that moment, you’re feeling good, making pitches, I think it’s certainly gonna have some weight on the back end.”
Just being in that mix wasn’t always a guarantee for Pepiot, who won a rotation spot coming out of spring training to only be sidelined by an oblique injury the week before opening day.
Initially, Pepiot expected to only miss a couple weeks. Instead, he was out for three months, with team doctors eventually discovering he had strained his intercostol muscle, as well.
Since making his return, however, the right-hander has showcased marked strides from his up-and-down debut season last year. His fastball command has been better. He is throwing his trademark changeup for more strikes.
Read more: Q&A: Here’s what comes next for Julio Urías and the Dodgers after his arrest
Most of all, with an 0.86 ERA in four big-league outings after Thursday, he looks more confident embracing a big-league — and, maybe even a postseason — environment.
“He’s going out there and opening a lot of eyes,” Roberts said. “He’s got real confidence now to get major league hitters out consistently.”
Betts leaves on crutches
Mookie Betts left the ballpark Thursday night on crutches after fouling a ball off his left foot in the first inning of the game. Betts stayed in until the eighth inning, reaching base three times on a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch. According to a person with knowledge of the situation unauthorized to speak publicly, postgame X-rays were also negative. Betts will be re-evaluated Friday when the Dodgers open a three-game series in Washington against the Nationals.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.