You could tell there was no stopping Rich Hill early in the Red Sox’ 5-1 win over the Rays Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park.
As Tampa Bay’s hitters stepped to the plate, settling their feet, getting comfortable, going through their pre-pitch routine, Hill was already into his windup. Ready to go. Sometimes, the ball had already left Hill’s hand, approaching shadows creeping beyond home plate. When it all happened too fast, the Rays hitters would call — and were granted — time out by home plate umpire Doug Eddings.
That didn’t stop Hill from delivering his pitch despite it resulting in a no-pitch. A pitcher never wants to stop his momentum. That risks injury, and Hill, at 42, is all too familiar with that.
Underneath that logic grew another seed, one planted by Hill with each quick pitch toward home plate: He wouldn’t be shaken off his timing or rhythm. Every pitch would be delivered with decisiveness and conviction.
The Rays wouldn’t dictate this game. Hill would.
For seven innings, on an afternoon that had a hint of fall in the air, Hill dished out a season-high 11 strikeouts. He did not yield a run, and helped clinch a series victory for the Red Sox, who are 4-8 against the Rays this year.
“I enjoy working quick,” Hill said. “I think that guys on defense love it, too.”
“I was just thinking the whole time, ‘Man, these guys gotta be going crazy in the batter’s box,’ ” center fielder Kiké Hernández said. “There’s no way you can get comfortable when a guy’s working that quick. I’ve never seen a game where there’s been so many timeouts called in the middle of the windup. It was fun to watch.”
It was a clinic by Hill, making a lineup of men look like hopeless adolescents. The Rays were out in front on the slow stuff, then behind on Hill’s four-seam fastball that averaged 89.4 miles per hour.
The Rays tried their best to stack the deck against the lefty, going with eight righthanders and one switch-hitter, but that didn’t matter. Hill kept dealing. The first time through the order he retired eight and struck out five. Hill yielded just three singles, two of them infield hits.
“He was excellent,” manager Alex Cora said. “Great tempo. Good fastball. Kept them off-balance. They loaded up with the righties but he knows how to pitch. We’ve been talking about that. He’s going to get the ball every five days. And that was really good.”
The Sox’ offense came alive for Hill, too, pounding Jeffrey Springs in the first. After a single by Tommy Pham and a double by Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez drove them in with a single off the Green Monster.
Later in the inning, Bobby Dalbec hit a two-run single to center, giving the Sox a 4-0 lead.
In the fourth, Hernández laced a solo shot, his sixth of the season, stretching the margin to 5-0.
The Red Sox’ offense didn’t do much after that inning. Following Verdugo’s single in the fifth, the Rays retired 11 in a row to end the game.
Hill, however, continued to push forward with his rapid pace. He turned the lineup over for a second time after five innings, needing only 70 pitches. Hill punched out three in the seventh wrapped around an Isaac Paredes single. His third strikeout of the frame — a called third strike to Yu Chang — came on the minimum amount of pitches. Hill exited the mound and Cora greeted him with a hug. The manager said earlier in the day that he needed five or six innings from his veteran lefthander. Hill gave him seven on 95 pitches.
“One thing for sure, he’s going to compete regardless of the results,” Cora said. “He’s going to give you his best. And I’m glad that he’s with us.”
Hill is the third pitcher to record 11-plus strikeouts and not allow a run at the age of 42 or older, joining Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan.
The key to Hill’s longevity in the big leagues was wrapped into his 6-foot-5-inch, 218-pound frame Saturday. It all came into focus. The tempo gave the Rays fits. Hill flashed his four-seamer, curveball, cutter, slider, changeup, sinker, and slow curve. He showed the Rays over-the-top arm slots, three-quarter angles, and sidearm releases.
Saturday displayed Hill’s art of survival in a league largely governed, and conquered by, youth.
Yet the veteran, having seen it all, broke down the architectural design of his performance to its foundational component.
“That’s pitching,” Hill said. “That’s kind of the art of it.”
Julian McWilliams can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.