'What a play by Rich Hill!' Veteran steals run

May 31st, 2022

BOSTON -- Though it was a pitching performance to forget for Rich Hill on Monday night at Fenway Park, the 42-year-old lefty made a fielding play to remember early in the Red Sox's 10-0 loss to the Orioles.

As Hill’s 1-2 fastball in the top of the first inning swerved too far inside and sailed past catcher Christian Vázquez all the way to the backstop, it seemed like a sure run for the Orioles.

Trey Mancini, who had just tripled, broke off third base for a foot race with Hill. If not for a quick retrieval by Vázquez and Hill's diving tag on the sliding Mancini’s left arm, it would have been Baltimore’s second run of the game.

But Hill essentially willed himself to make the out, tumbling after making the tag and giving the Red Sox their only true highlight in the disappointing rubber match of a five-game series.

“That’s the way he goes about it in Spring Training, in PFPs,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “He gives you everything. There are certain days that he’s going to be outstanding on the mound, and go six, seven innings. And days like today are going to happen, but the effort is always there -- covering first, covering the plate, he competes. It was a great play.”

From his perch in the NESN broadcast booth, Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley was impressed.

“What a play by Rich Hill! I couldn’t believe he caught this ball, and a headlong dive to home plate,” said Eckersley. “At 42 years old, he gets the tag on him. You don’t see that every day. I don’t think I ever had to make a play like that in all the years I played.”

There were two other elements that made the unique play possible. The first was that the ball took a generous ricochet off the backstop right to Vázquez. The second was that Vázquez made a swift underhand flip that Hill was able to corral in front of the right-handed batter’s box as he slapped down the tag in one quick motion.

“Throwing a ball awry like that, obviously, it was a command issue. Again, at the same time, being able to get there and cover home plate, it’s just a reaction play,” said Hill. “It’s something we work on in Spring Training and work on it a lot, even going over in meetings and just making sure we cover home plate. I was fortunately able to make that play and save a run.”

Hill’s hustle and willingness to get down and dirty served as another example of why Cora repeatedly refers to the veteran as a team leader.

“Well, it’s just kind of trying to do whatever you can do to make plays and get guys out. That’s the No. 1 goal. Especially in games where you don’t have your best stuff,” said Hill.

This is the second time in Hill’s last three starts he’s been knocked around. In four-plus innings, Hill (1-3, 4.85 ERA) gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks.

“I’d say out of the 92 pitches, 40 of them came out of my hand the way I wanted to. That’s a big indicator of the things that were not going well,” said Hill. “I say it all the time after a bad outing -- I take ownership for it. I did not pitch well and put us in a big hole to start off, so that’s something that for me, I take a lot of pride in and being able to give us an opportunity to win, so it’s something that is extremely frustrating.

“It’s also another thing that you can overanalyze and try to do too much during the week, but getting back to what makes me good as a pitcher is something that I think I’m going to focus on this week and right the ship, so to speak. The way the ball was coming out of my hand tonight hasn’t happened in a while, so it’s extremely frustrating. The work starts again tomorrow.”