In Game 4 of the World Series, Dodgers lefthander Rich Hill took the mound in the seventh inning after absolutely silencing Red Sox bats, holding them to one hit. He walked leadoff hitter Xander Bogaerts and then struck out Eduardo Nunez.
With two lefthanded hitters due up — Brock Holt and Jackie Bradley Jr. — Dodgers manager Dave Roberts left the dugout. He never signaled for a reliever. In fact at that point, with a 4-0 lead over the Red Sox, Roberts was going to let Hill stay in the game even with his pitch count at 91. He just went out to give Hill a little encouragement.
But Hill thought, given past history, that Roberts was going to take the ball and Hill seemed resigned to it. At that point Roberts decided to go with Scott Alexander, feeling in his mind Hill thought he was done.
It looked like a scenario in which the Dodgers were on their way to tying the series at 2.
Instead, the Red Sox went on to win the game, 9-6, blistering the Dodgers’ bullpen and taking a 3-1 series lead. The Red Sox won Game 5, 5-1, to win the World Series.
But Hill, whose arsenal includes a dynamic curveball and a tremendous ability to pitch, never blamed anyone. The offseason has been reflective, for sure. For the second time in as many years, his Dodgers lost the World Series. Not lost on Hill, though, is the fact the Dodgers made it there twice, which is a tremendous feat. Lost in all of this is how good a team you have to be to get to the World Series two straight years.
The Dodgers’ demise against the Red Sox started with that “miscommunication” out of the dugout.
“Every time the manager has come out to the mound, he has taken me out,” said Hill, who lives in Milton in the offseason. “I can’t remember any instances where I’ve been left in the game. It is what it is. Even the inning before they were prepared to hit for me with Brian [Dozier] on deck. There’s a lot of things going into it. It’s the World Series and they’re trying to create the best possible situation for us to win. Everyone is trying to make the best moves. At the end of the day, if things go the right way in that game there’s no topic of discussion, but unfortunately we didn’t have things fall the way we wanted to.”
Hill believes he was throwing the best curveball he had all season. He also had great faith in his second-half performances during the season and in the playoffs. “I had done a really good job at pitching late in the year,” he said. “It wasn’t a surprise to me that it felt as good as it was coming out.”
While some might ridicule the Dodgers for being baseball’s version of the Buffalo Bills, who lost four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, Hill says, “It’s also such a great accomplishment to get there two years in a row. It all depends on how you look at it.
“Moving into the 2019 season, it’s something that everyone on our team should be motivated by. Obviously the unfinished business we need to do is win one more series at the end of the season. The thing we have to do is put on a good show every single night. People spend a lot of money to come watch us play and that doesn’t go unnoticed by anybody in the locker room. People get to see the greatest baseball players in the world perform — give them their money’s worth. That’s the motivation. After we lost to Houston [in 2017] we had the World Series hangover.
“It took a month or so last year for us to get going. We were 16-26, guys were disappointed. But one thing we showed was resiliency as a team. They didn’t let it become the story line. They showed up and put the work in. Nobody gave up and quit. You can go one way or the other and we chose a good path.”
One thing Hill doesn’t believe in is resting players, particularly pitchers, because of the long postseason. While he acknowledges that postseason innings are “stressful innings,” he says, “There’s no time for rest. Once spring training hits we should be ready to take off running. That should be our theme. Put in an effort every day and fight like hell. Each individual’s goal is to have our best season, but we need to live it together.
“I think last spring training, I didn’t pitch until the second week of March. I don’t believe in it. The games count just as much in April as they do in September. We played in Game 163 last season [a 5-2 win over Colorado] and in my opinion that shouldn’t happen. We lost some games by a hair earlier in the season and it puts you in that situation to play 163. But you don’t want to be in that situation. You want to be 10 games up.
“You don’t want to get caught blindsided. If the starters are built up appropriately maybe we could have gotten an extra inning out there that would prevent the bullpen from having to pitch four days in a row. As a starter you take pride in taking the ball every fifth day and keeping the bullpen out of the game as long as we can.”
Hill, whose career transformed when he met up with Red Sox assistant pitching coach Brian Bannister, said he’s begun his throwing program earlier than normal and claims he’s had “one of the best offseasons I’ve ever had. I feel great. Less isn’t always more. There’s a sweet spot there where you have to push yourself. By accelerating my throwing program, I’ll be ready for spring training and that hopefully will carry into the early part of the season.
“As athletes we want to be challenged and pushed. Like I said, people pay good money to come watch Opening Day and you don’t want to go out there for four innings. Fans aren’t getting their money’s worth that way.”
Hill, who works out at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in the offseason, enters the final season of a three-year, $48 million contract. Hill, who will be 39 on March 11, wants to continue pitching beyond this season.
“Absolutely,” said. “There’s a lot more left in the tank. I want that ring.”
Apropos of nothing
1. What’s going on with Braves ownership? It took them forever to give Alex Anthopoulos a budget for the 2019 season. Now it looks like for a franchise that seems to have made a ton of money with its new ballpark, the budget doesn’t fit what it is taking in. The Braves made an immediate splash with Josh Donaldson, and to a lesser degree Brian McCann, and then crickets. They were said to have major interest in a reunion with Craig Kimbrel, but that hasn’t developed. Is Liberty Media not as enthusiastic about being baseball owners, despite quite a windfall from its new stadium and surrounding commercial ventures? It would be a shame if the Braves didn’t get to the next level because of budget issues. The team let longtime scouting executives Brian Bridges and Roy Clark go this past week. And the Braves can’t seem to shake the international signings scandal that rocked them a couple of years ago. The organization was also involved in a protracted grievance with first-round pick Carter Stewart because of a medical issue that surfaced.
2. I get that it’s just for one year, but did the Brewers really overpay free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal with an $18.5 million deal? Grandal is no doubt a good offensive catcher, but the Dodgers were afraid to play him on defense in the postseason.
3. The lame-duck Pawtucket Red Sox will have interesting challenges ahead trying to keep the fan base interested before their move to Worcester in two years. The team’s heart-wrenching decision to move will leave the city of Pawtucket empty-handed. It appears the PawSox braintrust of Larry Lucchino, Dan Rea, and Bill Wanless have a good game plan ahead of the 2019 schedule with promotions, etc., that should keep fans interested — not to mention the possibility of prospects such as Michael Chavis and possibly Bobby Dalbec at some point coming up to play. There have been rumors of a short-season team moving into McCoy Stadium at some point, but it’s only in the rumor stage at this point.
4. So how would you rank the remaining free agent starting pitchers? Dallas Keuchel remains No. 1 on the list, though his demand of five years, $100 million may not be met unless the moneybag Phillies do it. Ervin Santana remains an intriguing pitcher, even at age 36, if he’s over his injury problems. Wade Miley has been patient with the market this offseason, hoping to get a multiyear deal. The Nationals and Brewers are among the teams who may have some interest. Miley had a good season with the Brew Crew last season and offers a dependable back-end starter. Another intriguing pitcher is James Shields, who offers tremendous clubhouse leadership and innings at the back end.
5. One of the great scenes that remains embedded in my mind during the 2018 postseason is Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier yelling at Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez to get into the batter’s box. That was old-school baseball.
Updates on nine
1. Pablo Sandoval, 3B/1B, Giants — One of our readers, Richard Howard of Winchester, alerted us of a Pablo sighting at an airport where Howard said Sandoval “looked ripped.” The well-built version of the expression. This was seconded by Giants executive Bobby Evans, who said Sandoval was recently at a dinner in San Francisco and “looked great.” Sandoval will be paid by the Red Sox all but $550,000 (the Giants’ obligation) of the $18.045 million he is owed for the final year of that albatross contract to be a utility player.
2. Bryce Harper, OF, free agent — He may not get a better deal than what the Phillies offer, but if the Nationals are at $330 million, then the Phillies will likely trump it. As we’ve pointed out before, is Philly really where he wants to be? The Las Vegas native could hold out for the Dodgers, if they come around to him, or the Giants, who haven’t yet dipped into the bidding and may not despite their considerable offensive needs. As one American League executive pointed out, “I’d be surprised if this got to $35 million per year. I know it takes one team to go to $400 million, but I don’t see that. I’d actually be surprised if any team trumps 10 years.”
3. Arnie Beyeler, first base coach, Orioles — When it becomes official, one of the more impressive things Orioles GM Mike Elias and new manager Brandon Hyde have done is tab Beyeler as a coach. The former Sox first base coach and Pawtucket manager is great with young players, and the Orioles will have plenty of them. Beyeler got a raw deal in Boston when he had to contend with motivating Yoenis Cespedes to take balls off the wall in his half-season with Boston. Cespedes also didn’t want to play right field. Fun times. Then the following year, Beyeler had to break in Hanley Ramirez as a left fielder, which also was a task as Ramirez didn’t always want to get out there and practice the art of playing left field at Fenway.
4. Ervin Santana, RHP, free agent — There are teams interested in the former Twins righthander. But after missing most of the 2018 season with a middle finger injury, there’s no word on whether Santana, 36, will be able to pitch from the get-go in spring training. When healthy, Santana is better than a back-end starter, but those health issues have likely left teams unwilling to make a huge commitment to him.
5. Hanley Ramirez, 1B, free agent — Too early to tell whether Ramirez has shown enough in Dominican Republic winter ball for Tigres del Licey to get a spring training invite. Ramirez has had 64 at-bats and hit .266 with an .829 OPS. He’s hit three homers, knocked in 10 runs. There are scouts watching the former Red Sox, Dodgers, and Marlins infielder. Ramirez would have to come in on a minor league deal. Said one National League scout, “He looks like Hanley. Nobody ever questioned he can hit. It looks like he’s trying to hit the ball to all fields, which is what he should be doing. He’s worth a look-see. There’s no doubt he hasn’t lost much at the plate.” Ramirez is another veteran hitter looking for a job, joining Hunter Pence, Adam Jones, and Melky Cabrera, among others.
6. Bryce Brentz, OF, Red Sox — Brentz, now 30, has returned to the Red Sox organization and he’s expected to benefit from a reunion with the hitting coach who transformed his career – Rich Gedman. Brentz played in Triple A for the Mets last season but managed only 15 homers, about half the production he had with Pawtucket the year before. Gedman altered Brentz’s swing when he was in Pawtucket with instant success.
7. Dan Straily, RHP, Marlins — Straily, who settled for a $5 million deal with the Marlins to avoid arbitration, is high atop the team’s trade list. And as time goes on and some of the free agents fall off the board, the Marlins may have a market for Straily, who offers a decent middle of the pack to back-end rotation choice for short money. The Marlins would want a nice return for him.
8. Manny Machado, SS/3B, free agent — The Yankees may now be out of the Machado hunt after signing infielder DJ LeMahieu to a two-year deal. If so, it comes down to the White Sox and Phillies for Machado, unless there’s a mystery team. And the White Sox, who have acquired his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, and one of his best friends, Jon Jay, seem to have a legitimate shot. Another plus: They play in Chicago.
9. Russell Martin, C, Dodgers — Martin’s return to the Dodgers in a deal with the Blue Jays is likely not going to preclude the Dodgers’ pursuit of Marlins backstop J.T. Realmuto. The Marlins “have been insane,” according to one NL executive, about what they’ve asked for in return, but the Dodgers can have a bit more patience knowing Martin is in the fold. It also doesn’t appear the Dodgers are done in their search for a righthanded bat to replace Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, who were traded to Cincinnati.
From the Bill Chuck files — “If you are looking for a frame of reference for Andrew Benintendi’s first 333 games with Boston, look to the first 333 games for Ellis Burks and Carl Yastrzemski: Benintendi hit .282, Burks hit .283, Yaz hit .285; Benintendi hit 38 HRs, Burks hit 45, Yaz hit 31; Benintendi drove home 191, Burks had 183 RBIs, Yaz had 184 RBIs; Benintendi had an .806 OPS, Burks had an .811 OPS, and Yaz had a .785 OPS.” . . . Also, “In 2017, the Astros used three or more pitchers in 158 games, the most in the majors. In 2018, the Brewers used three or more pitchers in 159 games, the most in the majors. In 2017, the Yankees used three or more pitchers only 141 times, the fewest in the majors. In 2018, the Indians used three or more pitchers also 141 times, the fewest in the majors.” . . . Happy birthday, Heath Hembree (30), Billy Jo Robidoux (55), and Kevin Mitchell (57).