One stall in the Red Sox locker room features two nameplates. Side-by-side, lefthander Rich Hill and his 10-year-old son, Brice, have a home in the Red Sox clubhouse.
On Wednesday night, Brice Hill entered the Red Sox clubhouse and raced to his shared locker. Rich Hill, after delivering six scoreless innings and striking out nine in a 3-1 victory over the Orioles, handed his son the game ball and offered a fist bump in celebration.
It was a Norman Rockwell picture, one made possible because Hill elected to come home and pitch for the Red Sox in 2022 on a one-year, $5 million contract. That decision allowed the Milton native to achieve a rare alignment of his personal and professional life through grief and joy.
Rich Hill was home with his family in April when his father Lloyd passed away at 94. He remained here through the summer, getting the chance to watch Brice’s travel ball games just as Brice watched his dad’s big league performances.
A thus-far-elusive pursuit of a championship is the primary motivator for Hill as he continues to pitch at age 42. Yet despite the fact that the 2022 Red Sox – now 74-81, and eliminated from contention – will not fulfill that hope, he got to pitch at home and share the season with his wife, Caitlin, and a son who is old enough to appreciate it.
What has all of that meant? Hill’s eyes watered as he spent 10 seconds shaping emotions into words.
“It’s been great,” said Hill. “We have a finite amount of time to play this game. So it’s been great. … I love pitching here. Unfortunately, the season isn’t going the way that we want it to. But, hopefully brighter things are ahead.”
Hill has certainly lived up to his end of the deal. At 42, his start on Wednesday made him the oldest Red Sox pitcher ever to start 25 games in a season.
Within his 8-7 record and 4.41 ERA across 118 ⅓ innings, there have been moments of brilliance such as Wednesday’s victory, as well as outing after outing of leave-it-all-on-the-field competitiveness that more often than not gave his team a chance, regardless of the line score. The Red Sox are 13-12 when he has taken the mound.
It has been a fascinating year of development for Hill, who has continued to add to his quiver. The lefthander had predominantly been a fastball/curveball pitcher (a breaking ball that he’ll occasionally turn into a slow-motion drop-down slider) since his second life on the mound began as a starter with the Sox in September 2015.
But this year, he’s become increasingly comfortable employing a cutter, presenting a new look that, in tandem with his varying tempos and deliveries, has often flummoxed hitters. The cutter was particularly effective on Wednesday, with five of the 18 he threw resulting in Orioles swings-and-misses.
“A lot of the game is making adjustments. It’s not so much to stay relevant but it’s, how are you going to continue to keep getting hitters out and refining your craft,” said Hill. “In order to stick around, you have to continue to make adjustments throughout your career and this is just another one of those.”
The combination of an embrace of the artistry of pitching along with quality pitches suggests that Hill is not at the end of his career. Whether as a starter, reliever, or shapeshifting swingman, both Hill and members of the Red Sox feel strongly that he has more to give on the mound.
“He can pitch as long as his family lets him pitch,” said manager Alex Cora. “He still has stuff he can work [at] and get better at and he loves to compete.”
Competition will indeed draw Hill back to pitch again in 2023, though he’s contemplating different scenarios for next year. The 2021-22 campaigns have demonstrated to Hill that he can handle a full-season workload.
But he plans to sit down with Caitlin and Brice at the end of the season to decide whether he might skip the start of the year and join a team mid-season – after the school year – to minimize the time away from his family. Of course, Hill would also welcome a chance to pitch again for the Red Sox – something that would remove the “either/or” element from a professional and personal decision.
“Obviously, would love to come back here to Boston and play here,” said Hill. “We love it here. It’s something that, I think [chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom] and the front office are going to build a winner next year. It’s something that, if it works out, it works out. Keep the options open.”
Hill will have the offseason to shape his future. For now, he has one more opportunity in 2022 to pitch at Fenway Park, to stand on a mound where he and his family are so very much at home.
The Red Sox cruised to a relatively comfortable victory behind Hill. Alex Verdugo led the way with a run-scoring single in the first and then tucking a solo homer (his 11th) just inside the Pesky Pole in the bottom of the sixth inning. In between those two strikes, Abraham Almonte demolished a ball, sending a solo homer to right against Baltimore starter Dean Kremer (8-6).
The Red Sox, who were wearing their City Connect uniforms, improved to 8-2 this year and 14-4 overall in yellow.