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Hill's masterpiece another achievement in tremendous journey

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Your first thought is to feel all kinds of sorry for Rich Hill. You should not do this. Before you even think of doing that, you should know the road he has traveled doesn't allow for that sort of thing.

Besides, Hill will someday remember Wednesday night as one of the most memorable of his crazy career, a game he might just think about forever, and probably fondly once he has time to soak it all in.

Your first thought is to feel all kinds of sorry for Rich Hill. You should not do this. Before you even think of doing that, you should know the road he has traveled doesn't allow for that sort of thing.

Besides, Hill will someday remember Wednesday night as one of the most memorable of his crazy career, a game he might just think about forever, and probably fondly once he has time to soak it all in.

Sounds funny, doesn't it? Baseball can challenge, disappoint and reward, sometimes all in the same night. Hill retired 24 straight Pittsburgh Pirates to open this game. For eight innings, he did things pitchers usually only dream of doing.

And then. Hill was three outs from the 24th perfect game in baseball history when an error allowed Jordy Mercer to reach base to lead off the ninth inning. No problem. Hill got the next three outs to finish the inning.

We pause now for a recap of Hill's evening at that point: nine innings, zero hits, zero runs, zero walks, 10 strikeouts.

Tweet from @Dodgers: RT = 👏 for Rich Hill. pic.twitter.com/sFyjzpQ51I

Hill blamed himself for what happened next. His teammates blamed themselves for stranding 11 baserunners and going hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Regardless, an inning later, in the bottom of the 10th inning, it ended with Pirates second baseman Josh Harrison drilling a game-winning home run just over the outstretched glove of Dodgers left fielder Curtis Granderson.

Pirates 1, Dodgers 0.

Hill added an interesting footnote to a career that was already plenty interesting by becoming the first pitcher to lose a no-hitter on a walk-off home run. Afterward, he was businesslike.

"I don't really think of luck," Hill said. "I think it's just tomorrow you put in the work and you keep moving forward. Sometimes luck is disguised as that."

If you've followed the Dodgers this season, you knew how this was going to play out. You knew how it had to play out. The Dodgers were going to win because this is a season when they do pretty much nothing but win. They are baseball's best team by miles, 89-36 and counting, and leading the National League West by 21 games.

At their current clip, they're likely to finish with more victories than any NL team in 111 years.

Here's what Hill will be thinking about in a few days after he has some time to catch his breath and reflect on the whole thing. He'll remind himself that he's 37 years old, and with his 10th Major League organization. Hill will remember that he got to a moment like this one despite surgeries to his shoulder and elbow, despite being in independent ball as recently as 2015.

Despite it all, Hill was back out there on a mound in a Major League park doing the thing he loves more than almost anything. He hasn't just remade his career. He has remade it spectacularly, more than making up for lost time these last three seasons with the Red Sox, Athletics and Dodgers.

"There's a couple points in our career -- and I say our career because my wife [Caitlin] has been there every step of the way, and it's been an incredible journey," Hill told a reporter in 2015.

"And when we talk about perseverance it's really just, you know, not trying to be perfect as we're going through this life. Because when we look back on the journey it is ... it's a mess."

At the young age of 35, everything had clicked for Hill, not just the mechanics and the good health, but the ability to execute pitches and change speeds. That's one of the cooler parts of this story.

Hill figured out how to pitch long before he knew if his body would allow him to even try. This is not the kind of story that happens very often, especially in a young man's game.

That Hill would have the resolve and the tenacity to keep trying speaks volumes about his unshakable confidence in himself. To keep going after spending all or parts of 14 seasons in the Minor Leagues, after being released three times and granted free agency eight times, tells you plenty about the kind of man you're dealing with.

"I always talk about staying in the moment and trying to make the most of the time we have," he said last spring.

Yeah, even when Hill was pitching for the Long Island Ducks in 2015 and holding onto a flickering dream.

"Whether it's traveling from Sugar Land [Texas], getting into Long Island at 6 a.m.," he told a reporter. "Whether it was no bathroom in the dugout and peeing in a bucket.

"Things like that you have to take into account, where, it's like, you're playing the game because you love it, but you want to get back to the highest level and not give up. That's what I've continued to do."

The Dodgers acquired Hill from the Athletics last summer, and he flirted with perfection in his third start, getting pulled after seven perfect innings because of a blister that has been a recurring problem in recent years.

Hill has missed time because of those blisters this season, too, but since July 1, has pitched some of the best baseball of his career: 5-1, 2.25 ERA in 10 starts. And in a season when so much has gone right for the Dodgers, this one went another way.

"If I say, 'That's baseball,' it's a cliché, but that's the way it is," Hill said. "That's the way the game is. We have something bigger than any individual here that's going on. I think that's something we all realize. We're in it for the delayed gratification, not the instant gratification."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Rich Hill