By Jon Weisman
Pitchers paint on the edge of a cliff. They are artists, tending to a tiny canvas that hovers in mid-air, and they are adventurers who might fall at any moment.
Rich Hill took a minor masterpiece into the sixth inning tonight at Dodger Stadium. After walking two of three batters with some tremulous brush work to start the top of the second, Hill was in his element. Twelve of the next 13 batters he faced became dots on his Seuratian landscape.
In the top of the sixth, the ground beneath Hill’s easel began to quiver. With one out, Kris Bryant singled to left center, for the second hit off the Dodger left-hander. With two out, Anthony Rizzo took the first four pitches, and three fell outside the borders of the strike zone. On deck was Javy Baez, whose electric play helped the Cubs win Game 1 of the National League Championship Series and nearly Game 2 as well.
Hill raised his arm and lofted the next pitch, a 74 mile-per-hour curveball that sidled through the California air with the arc of a rainbow, landing into the glove of Yasmani Grandal for strike two.
Then, at 87 mph, Hill dropped down with a master’s flourish.
Hill pumped his fist, shouted to the heavens and handed his work to the gallery, for 54,269 art-lovers at Dodger Stadium to marvel.
The 36-year-old’s six innings of two-hit shutout ball, his finest performance since he threw seven perfect innings at Miami on September 10, were framed by Grandal, the catcher who also hit a two-run home run off Jake Arrieta in the Dodgers’ 6-0 victory.
Taking a 2-1 lead in the NLCS, the Dodgers are as close to the World Series as they have been in 28 years.
Hill struck out six, giving him 19 in 13 postseason innings (13.2 strikeouts per nine innings) with a 3.46 ERA. With Joe Blanton, Grant Dayton and Kenley Jansen finishing the game, the Dodgers have thrown consecutive postseason shutouts for the first time in franchise history.
In the process, they have held the Cubs, baseball’s regular-season juggernaut, to six hits in their past 18 innings.
Corey Seager (3 for 4), who dismissed any dreams of Arrieta repeating his 2015 no-hitter with a first-inning single, came back in the third to drive in Andrew Toles for the game’s first run.
An inning later, after Josh Reddick singled and became the first Dodger to steal two bases in a playoff game since Steve Sax in the 1988 NLCS, Grandal turned the sideshow into a carnival, bopping a full-count Arrieta fastball 108 mph off his bat to right center for a 3-0 Dodger lead.
In the sixth, the first pitch after Hill’s last pitch was also Arrieta’s last. Justin Turner knocked the ball 408 feet to center and knocked Arrieta from the game.
Jansen entered the game with two out in the eighth inning after Dexter Fowler doubled, and the Big Man struck out Bryant. In the bottom of that inning, Yasiel Puig (2 for 2 off the bench) scored from first on Joc Pederson’s double to left, before Pederson stole third and scored on Grandal’s grounder to short.
Jansen closed in the ninth, admittedly in an awkward moment — Roberts not wanting to remove the closer in a playoff game, even with the enlarged lead — and the Dodgers basked in the California love.