PITTSBURGH — A truckload of dirt was ready to be dumped on Rich Hill after the Pittsburgh Pirates needed only four pitches to score two runs off him Wednesday night.
Kevin Newman singled on his first pitch. Then Bryan Reynolds drove a high fastball 416 feet into the visitors’ bullpen in left-center.
To that point Hill had allowed 10 runs on 15 hits over seven innings since coming off the injured list earlier this month. That’s a few more bad pitches away from being on the wrong side of a roster move.
“There were a few things going through my head. It would have made an interesting mic’d up session for NESN,” Hill said.
But the 42-year-old Hill has made a career of overcoming adversity and did so again. He reset mentally, slowed his tempo, and retired the next 12 Pirates in order.
Hill ultimately pitched five strong innings as the Red Sox beat the Pirates, 8-3.
The Sox initially planned to get four innings out of Hill with rookie righthander Josh Winckowski following him to the mound.
That changed when the decision was made to scratch Nate Eovaldi from his start Thursday because of a sore trapezius muscle. Now Winckowski will start the series finale instead.
Hill going five innings and turning the Pittsburgh lineup over twice made it easier for Alex Cora to manage the bullpen.
“He takes pride in going five or six because he knows what it means,” Cora said. “We expect him to pitch well … it was what we needed.”
After the home run, Hill set down 15 of the remaining 16 batters he faced. The exception was a single by Rodolfo Castro leading off the fifth inning. Hill needed only six pitches from there to end the inning.
Greg Allen grounded into a force at second. Bligh Madris struck out swinging at a slider 6 inches off the plate and Jason Delay grounded to third base.
Hill was only at 57 pitches but that was enough. He struck out four without a walk and got seven outs on the ground. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts had a hand in five of those.
“Guys played great defense,” Hill said. “Bogey was excellent out there with his Gold Glove defense. It was good.”
Once he allowed two runs, the goal became not to give up a third and trust in the idea of getting some run support. The Sox scored three runs in the second inning and Hill didn’t let that lead go.
“That’s the experience that comes into play,” Hill said. “Buckle down and keep the team in the game. That’s really the mark of a pro, I think. Not to point the fingers at myself. I’m just saying we played excellent defense and we played obviously on the offensive side incredibly well [with] great at-bats.
“It was a big win for us. Every win from here on out is going to be huge because we’re fighting for that wild-card spot.”
Hill (5-5) has given the Sox 18 starts, 82⅔ innings, and a 4.68 earned run average this season, about what you’d expect from a No. 5 starter on a $5 million deal. The Sox have won half his starts.
The real reward for him would be getting another chance at the postseason.
Hill has appeared in 13 postseason games going back to 2007 with the Cubs. He had a 2.43 ERA in nine playoff games, eight of them starts, with the Dodgers from 2017-19.
Hill and the Dodgers lost Game 7 to the now-nefarious Houston Astros in 2017. The Red Sox knocked them out in 2018. When the Dodgers finally won in 2020, Hill was with the Twins.
This Red Sox team certainly doesn’t seem likely to come away with any rings this season. But Hill will take any chance he can get.
“That’s why I’m pitching. That’s why I’m doing it,” he said. “You hear a guy like Derek Jeter say it’s a failed season if you don’t win the World Series. You don’t understand that until you get there.
“When you’re a Game 7 away from winning that ring and it doesn’t happen it’s like ripping your heart out and throwing it on the ground. That’s the reason that I’m playing.”