Red Sox

Red Sox

BOSTON -- From a distance, it seems hard to believe. 

From the dugout, it's no different.

What Rich Hill is doing -- this late in the season, this late in his career -- is tough to grasp.

“I can't explain it,'' shrugged interim manager Torey Lovullo after Hill turned in a complete-game shutout to run his record to 3-0 in three starts, "other than he's a guy who's really digging deep to make that moment happen. It's not easy; we know that. This is a very, very tough game. It's challenging at every turn, but he has simplified things and probably deserves all this credit, because it's from within.''

Hill went the distance, allowing just two hits in a 7-0 whitewashing of the Baltimore Orioles. He struck out 10 hitters and walked just one.

In three starts, he's allowed just nine hits in 24 innings, while fanning 30 and walking just two.

Those would be remarkable numbers for any major league pitcher. But for one who's 34, who has two major arm surgeries in his rear view mirror and just two months ago was pitching in independent ball, it's borderline unbelievable. 

Hill's run isn't just unexpected -- it's downright historic.

Hill became the first American League pitcher in the last 100 years to record at least 10 strikeouts in each of his first three starts with a team. 

As he rides the wave of success, he credits experience and know-how.

"I'm older,'' said Hill, "and I've been able to hone my skills, I guess, from the last five years and get stronger, get into a good lifting program. Each piece of the pie kind of fits together and as I've gotten older, I've been able to figure out the most efficient way for me to pitch.

 

"For me, it's (about) really staying in the moment and make the best pitch that I can. Overall, when I was younger and starting, I don't think I was apt to understanding pitching. As I've gotten older, more of that has come along.'' 

Hill's journey is well known by now. After undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum and later, Tommy John surgery, Hill has bounced around with seven different organizations. 

Two years ago, he was late to spring training after he and his wife lost an infant son. He's gone from starter to reliever to starter, working his way back to the big leagues after being released by Washington's Triple A affiliate earlier this year.

He went from working out with an American Legion team in the his native Milton, Mass., to pitching for the Long Island Ducks this summer, to a Triple A deal in Pawtucket, and ultimately, a call-up to Boston.

He's taken that opportunity and made the most of it. And he has friends and supporters all over happy to watch him succeed.

"He is just so easy to root for,'' said Lovullo. "I get a lot of people that track me down, whether it's on the field or by text, and they (say), 'Please pass my well wishes to Rich Hill. He's a pretty special guy and I want to make sure you say hello for me and congratulations.' That's going on all the time. Everybody who knows him, loves him.''

Beyond the human interest aspect, there's the baseball side of Hill's improbable. 

Given a chance to start earlier this month only because injuries had left the Red Sox shy of rotation candidates, he's gone 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA.

"That's three in a row,'' said Lovullo. "He's starting to give us a real good feeling that he can go out there at anytime and command the baseball and win a game.''

In addition to Betts's spectacular catch for the final out, the game also featured two Red Sox -- Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts -- reaching home plate at virtually the same time, with both scoring safely.

"There was a lot of exciting moments and there was a ton of energy on the field and in the dugout,'' said Lovullo. ''But nothing was better than the complete game shutout by Rich Hill.''