RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: How Rich Hill could have changed Red Sox playoff history

RED SOX INSIDER

Two great postseason runs by the Red Sox might have never happened if Rich Hill had been given more of a say.

The Red Sox reacquired the ageless 41-year-old left-hander this week before the clock struck midnight on the CBA, and it got me thinking about his place in team history.

Two bad decisions involving Hill serve as fulcrums in postseason losses to the Red Sox, and it's fair to wonder how things might've turned out differently with the curveball-spinning southpaw in the picture.

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The first and most obvious is Game 4 of the 2018 World Series. Hill started for the Dodgers with a chance to even the series and delivered a dynamite performance. He took a no-hitter into the fifth and a shutout into the seventh before being lifted with one out and one on at 91 pitches

The Dodgers led 4-0, but that lead evaporated in an instant, with Mitch Moreland belting a pinch-hit three-run homer and the Red Sox erupting for nine runs over the final three innings to claim the 9-6 victory. They won the World Series the next day.

Hill was incensed with manager Dave Roberts for lifting him -- the mild-mannered lefty is notoriously competitive on the mound -- and his anger only intensified after Roberts said Hill had instructed him to "keep an eye on me" before the seventh.

 

"We need to change the narrative of this where it's being insinuated that I wanted to come out of the game," Hill said the next day. "Understand that when I said, 'Keep an eye on me,' I never said 'tired' or 'I wanted to come out of the game.' I never want to come out of the game. You're thinking about the 25 guys and understanding that if things get haywire out there, and saying, 'Hey, if there's a better option coming out of the bullpen, I'm going to be on board with that because of the gravity of the situation.'"

Less obvious is this year's American League Division Series. The Rays entered as clear favorites and seemed on their way to a rout after winning Game 1 and taking a 5-2 lead in the first inning of Game 2. But Tampa had entrusted the series to a rookie rotation, which wilted under the assault of a relentless Red Sox attack.

Boston scored 26 runs over the final three games to advance to the ALCS. One pitcher it never faced, and a veteran who most certainly wouldn't have feared the moment, was Hill. He won six games for the Rays before being shipped to the Mets in a curious July trade that netted injured reliever Tommy Hunter and a prospect.

Here's hoping that if the Red Sox put him in a position to succeed, they leave him there.

John Tomase on Rich Hill

Hindsight being what it is, it's now clear the Rays erred. They believed they were dealing from a position of strength, with Michael Wacha and Luis Patino returning from injury and Chris Archer a possibility to rejoin the rotation.

Instead, Hunter never threw a pitch in a Rays uniform, Archer returned for five starts before being shut down in September, Wacha got pounded in relief in his only ALDS appearance, and Patino took a walk-off loss in Game 3 as Tampa's presumed strength became an October weakness.

Would Hill, with a lifetime postseason ERA of 3.06, have fared better than rookies Shane Baz and Shane McClanahan? Considering that the former was making just his fourth career start when he shakily took the ball for Game 2, and that McClanahan didn't know what hit him in the clinching Game 4, Hill seems like a better bet than either rookie.

But that couldn't happen, because he had finished his season somewhere else. Now he's back in Boston, still chasing his first World Series ring with his 42nd birthday looming in March. Here's hoping that if the Red Sox put him in a position to succeed, they leave him there.