Dodgers-Cubs NLCS: Rich Hill beats the team he hit postseason rock bottom with
Rich Hill's first playoff start came for the 2007 Cubs, and it was a disaster
In 2007 Hill was a 27-year-old starting pitcher for the Cubs. He ended up taking the ball in an elimination game for the NL Central champs that year, in Game 3 with the Cubs down 2-0 in the best-of-five NLDS to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hill coughed up a home run to lead off the game and would only muster three innings, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks.
What followed was Hill losing control, losing several jobs, bouncing around the league, making several trips to the minors and not making a big-league start in any season from 2010-14.
Quite simply: One of the most ridiculous baseball proclamations one could have made halfway through the 2015 season was that Rich Hill would make a dominant start in the 2016 NLCS.
And yet, here we are. Hill just held the 103-win Cubs to two hits -- harmless singles -- in six scoreless innings on Tuesday (LAD 6, CHC 0). He struck out six and walked two.
"It's the biggest game of my career," Hill said afterward. "It's all about staying in the moment and executing when you're in that moment, and that's all you can think about. And that's 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."
As Hill noted, it looked like his command was slipping a few times, but with each blemish he was able to work his way back. He specifically mentioned the second inning. He had walked both Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler, both of whom moved up a base on a passed ball that looked like a cross-up. Then, with runners on second and third and only one out, Hill struck out Addison Russell before getting a Miguel Montero ground out. That was the only time a runner got to scoring position against him.
Otherwise he was in control throughout the night as he watched his offense give him a run in the third before Yasmani Grandal's two-run shot in the bottom of the fourth provided some cushion.
It was smooth sailing from there for the Dodgers. For Hill, that this came against the Cubs didn't really make much difference, he said.
"No, with pitching against the Cubs, I think it's just coincidence and here we are," Hill said before the game. "Again, it could be any team, right? But, obviously, when I look at it, I don't look at it any differently than any other team ... as far as having the opportunity to execute what I need to execute my game plan and how I'm going to go out there and, again, stay in the moment and not think about things that I can't control."
As for the background, there is still something there when it comes to Hill and the Cubs.
"I think if you talk to anybody and you know everybody has a story, everybody has background to how they got to this point," he said. "And sure ... when I look back to going through the minor leagues -- the coaches, the time and the effort that was put in by those coaches to make myself the player that I am today or be able to take some piece of advice that they were able to pass on and I'm able to implement that into my game, sure, there is definitely obviously a tie there that will last throughout my life."
Still, that was a long time ago. Hill hasn't been with the Cubs since 2008 and there are no players on the 2016 Cubs who were teammates at the time. He was much more recently with the Long Island Ducks, an Independent team with no major-league affiliation (14 months ago!).
And now he was a dominant force in a 6-0 Game 3 Dodgers win, giving them a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven NLCS.
What a remarkable turnaround it has been for the well-traveled, 36-year-old lefty.