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Hill's journey comes full circle with WS start

Dodgers lefty to take ball for Game 2 vs. team he almost signed with last offseason
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

LOS ANGELES -- Fifteen months after finding himself out of a Major League job and donning a Long Island Ducks uniform, decision time came for Rich Hill. It was early last December and interest had flowed in for a then 36-year-old free-agent lefty who had seemingly resurrected his career when given yet another chance.

The Dodgers, with whom he had finished the 2016 season, were interested. So, too, were the Yankees and Astros. Contractual talks with Houston, Hill recalled, "got pretty deep," but the draw to return to Los Angeles was too strong to ignore.

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LOS ANGELES -- Fifteen months after finding himself out of a Major League job and donning a Long Island Ducks uniform, decision time came for Rich Hill. It was early last December and interest had flowed in for a then 36-year-old free-agent lefty who had seemingly resurrected his career when given yet another chance.

The Dodgers, with whom he had finished the 2016 season, were interested. So, too, were the Yankees and Astros. Contractual talks with Houston, Hill recalled, "got pretty deep," but the draw to return to Los Angeles was too strong to ignore.

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Now, that pitcher the Astros tried to lure back to the American League will be the one the organization must face on Wednesday as it tries to avoid falling into a 2-0 World Series hole. As for Hill, the choice to stick with the Dodgers not only showered him with a lucrative $48 million payday, but also the chance to pitch in his first Fall Classic while with his 10th organization.

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Hill will oppose Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the World Series presented by YouTube TV at Dodger Stadium after Los Angeles secured a 3-1 Game 1 victory Tuesday night.

"I think in those times of struggle and in the times for failure in the rehab, the years of rehabbing, not being in an affiliated clubhouse, and getting the opportunity again is something that, yeah, you really do appreciate," Hill said. "You understand how fortunate you are to play this game."

Hill insists he never considered giving up and moving on while his circuitous journey took him in and out of Major League clubhouses and left him frequently sidelined with injuries, several of which seemed career threatening at the time. Perhaps that's why when Hill found a place where he felt he fit, he couldn't find a compelling enough reason to leave.

"After the season, [there] was a sense of we wanted to come back here and have the opportunity to get to this point," Hill said. "We had some really great options going into this season, last offseason. It was a humbling experience. Things happen for a reason, and we're excited to be back here in L.A."

A non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition by the Dodgers in 2016, Hill dazzled down the stretch last year with a 1.83 ERA in six starts. He then capped the season with six shutout innings against the Cubs in his first career National League Championship Series appearance.

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Hill on almost signing with the Astros

This year brought nagging blister issues, but also another measure of success. Hill threw more innings (135 2/3) than he had in any Major League season since 2007 and finished with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Hill was at his best during the last three months of the regular season, going 8-4 with a 2.64 ERA while limiting opponents to a .185 batting average in his final 15 starts.

"He's a great competitor," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "That edge that he brings and the way that this guy prepares like no other, he's a baseball player. This guy thinks he's superman on the baseball field."

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Hill is healthy, expecting loud LA crowd

The oldest pitcher to make a postseason start for the Dodgers since Greg Maddux in 2006, Hill has already helped the Dodgers to Game 2 wins in both the NL Division Series and NLCS. Combined, he allowed three earned runs on six hits over nine innings, striking out 12 and walking four.

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Verlander set to square off against Hill

Another Game 2 win behind Hill would give the Dodgers, who are already 8-1 this postseason, a commanding Series lead. Of the 54 teams to go ahead 2-0 in a World Series, 43 have gone on to capture the championship.

Hill enters Game 2 of the World Series having made 10 career starts against the Astros, but his familiarity with this particular bunch is limited. Only Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have accrued more than six plate appearances against the left-hander, who, had things transpired a bit differently last winter, might have become their teammate.

Video: WS2017 Gm2: Hill on gameplan vs. tough Astros' lineup

"I know it's a great organization, [a] team that has been familiar with success," Hill said of the Astros. "At the end of the day, it's about attacking and staying convicted in your approach. You've done your homework. You've prepared throughout the entire season to get to this point. And you understand throughout the course of your career how to draw upon those experiences when you get to this point."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Rich Hill