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LOS ANGELES — The kid from the Bay State League, the kid who grew up playing on Cunningham Park in Milton, started Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.
Thirty-seven-year-old Rich Hill — a guy who pitched for the Cubs, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees, A’s, and yes, even the Long Island Ducks just two years ago — got the ball for the Dodgers against Houston’s Justin Verlander.
Hill pitched four perilous innings and picked up a no-decision in a game the Astros won, 7-6, in 11 innings. The pride of Milton allowed one run on three hits and three walks while striking out seven. Hill threw only 60 pitches, but evidently manager Dave Roberts did not want to give Houston batters a third go-around vs. the Dodgers lefthander. The Dodgers were hitless vs. Verlander in the first four frames and it looked like runs were going to be at a premium in Game 2.
Not many guys would appreciate a World Series start as much as Hill. His baseball career has been a journey of pain and perseverance. He’s been traded. He’s been released. He’s had Tommy John surgery. He’s gone from the big leagues to the independent leagues. He’s been on the disabled list nine times. He remembers being jobless, wounded, and working to come back by throwing a hardball against the wall of a warehouse in South Boston. He did the same thing at Boston College High School.
“They were very kind about letting me stand in the parking lot and throw off the side of a building,’’ Hill said before his start. “The ball would get all tattered against those walls. I think I still have that ball at home.’’
The scuffed baseball is another reminder of a mound odyssey that has taken Hill to eight big league teams and minor league outposts in Boise, Lansing, Daytona, Iowa, West Tennessee, Peoria, Norfolk, Frederick, Pawtucket, Memphis, Portland, Salem, Greenville, Scranton, Syracuse, Stockton, and Central Islip, N.Y. And that’s just in professional ball.
Hill’s résumé of ballplaying in Greater Boston is even longer.
“In tee-ball in Milton, I was on the Cincinnati Reds,’’ he remembered. “I was a catcher, playing lefthanded. I didn’t have a catcher’s mitt.
“I started pitching when I was about 9. I was a batboy for my brothers and their friends when they started the Towne Club in the Yawkey League. I remember everything. It was a great baseball start for me. Late at night, watching my brothers. The lights would go off at midnight and guys would still be hanging out in the parking lot. All sorts of great memories.’’
Hill was MVP of the Bay State League, pitching for coach Ted Curley at Milton High School. He hit nine homers in his senior season and was also a state champion golfer. He was a Globe All-Scholastic in 1999 and got invited to the Globe’s coveted awards banquet in the grand ballroom of the Park Plaza.
Hill pitched for Chatham in the Cape Cod League. He is the only former member of the Shore Baseball Club of Hingham to make it to the major leagues. He is in the Yawkey League Hall of Fame. He pitched in the Junior Park League and the Boston Park League. On the way to World Series Game 2, Hill pitched at Rogers Park (Brighton), Trum Field (Somerville), and Playstead Park (Medford).
The sum total of all this is that just about every 30- to 40-year-old New England man who played baseball in his youth has a Rich Hill story. Matt Hyde, who coached at Harvard and Michigan, would invite Hill to clinics at BB&N and the Crimson’s Joe O’Donnell Field. Newton North high school players used to chuckle at the sight of the “big leaguer” working out at BB&N, strengthening his shoulder by extending his arms and holding tiny weights, while balancing on a giant physio ball. It’s impossible to look cool doing those exercises.
Hill never worried about looking cool. He just wanted to get back to the big leagues. One of his big breaks came in 2015 when the Red Sox signed him to a minor league contract after Hill was released by the Nationals. After five games with Pawtucket, he returned to the bigs and went 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA for the last-place Red Sox. The Sox showed little interest in keeping him as a starter, so he signed with the A’s for the 2016 season, then got traded to the Dodgers at the deadline that summer. LA won the bidding for his services last winter and Hill went 12-8 with a 3.32 ERA in the Dodgers’ 104-win season.
“There was never a time when I thought about hanging it up,’’ he said. “I knew I had a lot more to give being healthy if my shoulder came around. I knew there would be more opportunities out there. I didn’t know where those opportunities would come from. The biggest thing was to stay ready and stay focused in on what I had to do to be ready for that opportunity when it popped up. And that came from the Red Sox.’’
Perspective about baseball comes easily after what Hill endured in 2014 when his 2-month-old son, Brooks, died of medical complications.
“That’s something that I don’t think anybody would ever want to go through,’’ said the lefty. “That’s something that I had to . . . it was just a tough point in our life. Understanding that, the concept of time came into play for all of us.’’
Rich and Caitlin Hill’s other son, 6-year-old Brice, was at Dodger Stadium to see his dad pitch in the World Series.
Hill pledged to savor the moment.
“All these things, these memories . . . You think back to how much fun you had when you were younger. Little League. Babe Ruth. High school. Independent ball. A-ball. First time getting called up. You think about it and look back and think, ‘Man, did I enjoy those moments or just focus on results?’ So here it’s something with that experience and age, over time, I can really feel those moments and not focus on the end results.’’
The result wasn’t everything he’d hoped for, but it wasn’t bad. On a night when Verlander had no-hit stuff (Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson tied the game with a solo homer in the fifth), Hill kept his team in the game. With two aboard and one out in the third, he struck out Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa back-to-back to end the threat.
Not bad for a kid from Milton who was a Long Island Duck just two years ago.
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