By Jon Weisman
On the verge of an early exit, Rich Hill turned his night around.
After 23 pitches in the second inning, Hill had only one out. A six-pitch popout by Javy Baez was sandwiched by a nine-pitch walk to Anthony Rizzo and an eight-pitch free pass to Jorge Soler. Game 3 of the National League Championship Series was teetering.
This wasn’t an elimination game. Dave Roberts wasn’t looking to make a quick move. But it was getting late early out at Dodger Stadium.
“It was a thought,” Roberts said of going to the bullpen, repeating it for emphasis. “Maybe if he had lost (another) hitter. I was thinking about it a little bit.
“But still, he’s had some abbreviated starts lately … and I really didn’t feel comfortable about pulling the plug on him tonight. So I wanted him to kind of work through it. And fortunately, he did.”
Hill struck out Addison Russell swinging. Two pitches later, Miguel Montero grounded out. They were the first two outs of a stretch in which Hill retired 12 of 13 batters, in a game the Dodgers won going away, 6-0.
“It’s interesting that the starts I’ve seen him this year, it wasn’t his best stuff (tonight),” Roberts said. “I think that curveball command wasn’t as I know he would like it, but that shows that he just goes out there and competes … Changing speeds, pitching off the breaking ball, mixing in the fastball, yeah, he kept them off balance all night.”
Hill said his curveball command was lacking at the start but improved as the game went on. The pitch is his bread and butter, and he wasn’t going to abandon it.
“I think it’s one of those things that if you have a pitch that’s better than your other pitches, you throw it more, and percentage-wise it should work out in your favor,” Hill said. “I’m not going to sit here and say it’s not a major part of my game.”
The 36-year-old added that tonight’s victory was the “biggest game of my career,” but that you can’t think like that while it’s happening.
“It’s all about staying in the moment and executing when you’re in that moment, and that’s all you can think about,” Hill said. “All you can control is that pitch. In the second inning, walk a few guys — it’s over with, can’t control it — and you move on. You execute the next pitch, and you execute the pitch after that. And you continue to execute until the ball gets taken out of your hand.”