NEW YORK -- Upon signing a one-year deal last winter to spend his age-41 season with the Rays, Rich Hill made it clear why Tampa Bay was his choice. “The opportunity to win -- and win now,” Hill said at his introductory press briefing. “I don’t think it’s any secret I’m trying to win a World Series.”
Hill went on to call his title chase an “obsession” for a pitcher with nearly two decades in the league, two pennants to his name, and no titles. So when the Rays traded him to the Mets in July, Hill -- like many, somewhat surprised by the move -- drew optimism from the fact that his new team was also a contender.
At least, the Mets were at the time. When Hill walked off the mound following his final start of the season in a 12-3 win over the Marlins on Thursday at Citi Field, New York had already been eliminated from postseason contention for several days. The Rays, meanwhile, had clinched the American League’s top seed and best record. They will enter October as serious title contenders, while Hill will watch their pursuit on television.
“I’ll be pulling for those guys,” Hill said. “I hope they win it all. That’s a great club over there, and unfortunately we’re not in that position.”
Hill’s final start resembled many of his others: he went five innings, allowing three runs (two earned) and striking out six to win his first and only game as a Met. Offensive backing came in the form of Pete Alonso’s 36th and 37th homers, a four-run rally in the fourth and Francisco Lindor's grand slam in a six-run eighth.
“It was emotional,” Hill said of the win. “It meant a lot. Getting traded over here, I had high expectations and wanted to contribute more down the stretch than I did. But to get one last start at home here in front of these great fans, it meant a lot.”
Hill, who will turn 42 in March, has reached the point of his career where his age defines him -- even as he continues to defy it. Ninety-nine percent of 40-something big leaguers have already retired. But Hill intends to keep on ticking, saying Thursday that he “definitely” wants to pitch again next year. Coming off a season in which he delivered 158 2/3 innings over 32 outings, avoiding the injured list all year while producing a 3.86 ERA, Hill is likely to find suitors.
The Mets should be among those with interest, and if they are, Hill intends to consider them. A Massachusetts native, Hill enjoys playing close to home in the Northeast. He relished his time in Queens despite the disappointing result. And he believes he still has something to offer.
“I know there’s a lot of good things going on here,” Hill said. “I’m not one to politick or vouch for myself to come back or wherever I’ve been, but I know that there’s a lot of special things that are going to happen here. It would be something that I would truly look forward to.”