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At 42 years old, Rich Hill paints a masterpiece for Red Sox

With the gray showing in his whiskers, 42-year-old Rich Hill is all smiles after striking out 11 in seven innings of shutout ball.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Pitching can be an art form when the baseball is in the right hands.

From the Tilt-A-Whirl delivery of Luis Tiant to the vanishing changeups thrown by Pedro Martinez, the Red Sox have employed some of the great masters over the years.

On Saturday, Rich Hill was their equal with a tour de force against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The 42-year-old lefthander pitched seven shutout innings, allowing three singles and one walk while striking out 11 in a 5-1 victory.

Hang that scorecard down the street at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Hill worked so quickly that the game was over in 2 hours and 24 minutes. His rapid-fire delivery was such that several Tampa Bay hitters tried stepping out of the batters’ box and calling time to throw him off.

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Umpire Doug Eddings granted it, but Hill threw the ball anyway rather than break his rhythm.

“Just getting the work in,” he said, smirking.

That’s the kind of day it was.

Hill had five different strikeout pitches. His four-seam fastball, which topped out at 91.5 miles per hour, accounted for four. His slider was responsible for three.

The curveball picked up two and his cutter and sinker one each. Hill also threw an occasional changeup. There was a 24.6 m.p.h. difference between Hill’s best fastball and his slowest curveball.

That’s a canyon for a hitter trying to time his swing.

“He threw whatever I called,” catcher Kevin Plawecki said. “It was amazing. It’s great to be back there when he has it going like that.”

Working in the late afternoon shadows that crawled across Fenway Park, Hill was in complete command.

“It was a little boring but it was fun to play behind him,” center fielder Kiké Hernández said.

The 11 strikeouts were the most for a pitcher 42 or older since Aug. 22, 2008, when 44-year-old Randy Johnson fanned 13 Florida Marlins.

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Johnson overmatched hitters with power, Hill with finesse. It’s part of what makes baseball so compelling, the different ways to do the same job.

“That’s pitching,” Hill said. “Being able to change speeds, change arm angles, change eye levels, quick pitch, hesitation, work the top of zone, bottom of the zone.

“That’s one thing I love about this sport and obviously the position that I play is being a pitcher and not a thrower. It makes it a lot of fun.”

For Sox manager Alex Cora, who’s only four years older than Hill, it was a joy to watch from the dugout.

“He was locked in from the get-go, you could tell,” Cora said.

Hill has faced the Rays twice this season and pitched 11 shutout innings.

He played for Tampa Bay last season, starting 19 games before being traded to the Mets. But the Rays hitters still can’t figure him out.

“He can really get creative on the mound. Different delivery, it seems, every third pitch,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s just one year older. But the athleticism that he shows to be able to do that within his delivery — start, stop — it is impressive. And when he’s on like he was today, he’s really tough to time up.”

Hill signed with the Red Sox hoping it would be a path to the postseason. That’s unlikely to be the case with the team on the outskirts of the playoff chase.

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But Hill has done his part. His 89⅔ innings are the third-most on the team and his 19 starts are second. A 4.32 ERA is his highest since 2013 but still close to the league average (4.06) for a starter.

“There’s certain days that it doesn’t look good. Yeah, he knows it, too,” Cora said. “But one thing for sure, he’s going to compete regardless of the result. He’s going to give you his best. I’m glad he’s with us.”

Hill, who grew up in Milton, has some patches of gray in his beard but he’s determined to try again next season, whether it’s in Boston or somewhere else.

For a few years now, Hill has considered the idea of waiting until June to join a team so he can spend more time with his wife and son before taking the summer to pitch.

However Hill decides to go about it, Saturday provided ample proof he still has plenty left to offer.


Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.