WASHINGTON -- Through three innings on Sunday afternoon, Rich Hill was on cruise control. His biting curveball was devastating as ever. His sneaky fastball was equally sharp. Nationals Park had responded in kind, a once-festive atmosphere turning tense and quiet.My, how quickly things can change in October.With two men on
WASHINGTON -- Through three innings on Sunday afternoon, Rich Hill was on cruise control. His biting curveball was devastating as ever. His sneaky fastball was equally sharp. Nationals Park had responded in kind, a once-festive atmosphere turning tense and quiet.
My, how quickly things can change in October.
With two men on base in the bottom of the fourth, the Dodgers southpaw did something he doesn't often do: He hung a curveball. Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton sent it soaring through a merciless wind and into the L.A. bullpen, giving the Nationals their first lead of the National League Division Series. The blast proved to be the seminal moment in the Dodgers' 5-2 loss in Game 2, which evened the series at one game apiece.
"It was a hanging curveball, and he did what he was supposed to do with it," Hill said. "Tip your hat. I didn't execute that pitch, and it landed in their favor."
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Since joining the Dodgers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline this summer, Hill hadn't allowed a home run off of his curveball. He had given up just four big flies on any pitch all season, in fact.
The homer sent Nationals Park into a frenzy, and Hill never quite recovered. He allowed three singles in the top of the fifth and was removed with one out in the frame. In total, Hill allowed four runs on six hits with seven strikeouts -- all of which came during the first three innings.
"That was a big home run," said Nationals skipper Dusty Baker, "especially the way Rich Hill was dealing against us. But Loby had some success against Rich Hill in the past, and, boy, that just erupted the stadium. Man, that was huge."
The Dodgers will hand the ball to Kenta Maeda on Monday afternoon for a pivotal Game 3 at Dodger Stadium (4 p.m. ET, 1 PT, on MLB Network). But they'll do so only after squandering their chance to take a stranglehold on the best-of-five series.
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"I'm disappointed, really disappointed," Hill said. "I thought that game was going to play well for me, personally, to put us in a good position to win, and I didn't execute. It falls solely on me."
In reality, Hill got himself into trouble one batter prior to Lobaton's blast, when he plunked the slumping Danny Espinosa with a first-pitch fastball. Espinosa is 0-for-5 with five strikeouts this series.
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"I thought Rich had good stuff," said Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts. "The breaking ball was good, fastball life was good. You look back at that inning, and he hits Espinosa with a cutter with two outs. And then you bring Lobaton to the plate, and it was just a breaking ball that he left up, and he put a good swing on it."
Hill had also hit Espinosa with a pitch in the second inning, only for Lobaton to bounce into an inning-ending double play. He wouldn't get away with the same mistake twice.
Of course, the Dodgers' offense did Hill no favors, going 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and leaving 12 runners on base. After the game, the Los Angeles hitters were quick to come to Hill's defense.
"He makes one bad pitch to a guy I don't think anybody thought would be the guy to hurt us," said Josh Reddick, Hill's teammate in Oakland before the pair was packaged in the same trade to Los Angeles on Aug. 1. "That's what happens; anybody can be the guy in the postseason. Tip your cap to him."
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Hill, however, cited more than one bad pitch. He also hung a curveball to Bryce Harper in the fifth, which the Nationals slugger smacked into left field. Then, he grooved a fastball that Daniel Murphy poked the other way for an RBI single.
At that point, Hill's start -- his first in the postseason since 2007 with the Cubs -- was over. The Dodgers' bullpen would allow another run. The Nationals' relief corps never blinked.
"I believe we're tied in this series now because I didn't execute," Hill said. "For me, it's extremely disappointing. But the good news is we're going home [with] home-field advantage."
AJ Cassavell is in his sixth season as a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.