Days after losing dad, Hilliard hits key HR

Emotional OF belts go-ahead shot in 6th, then steals 2nd and scores in 9th

September 18th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- Rockies outfielder celebrated his two-run, go-ahead homer in the sixth inning Friday night, then let some tears fall. We all were part of Team Hilliard in that moment, and it was a reminder that the fight against ALS should never stop.

Hilliard’s 11th homer of the season, and his daring steal in the top of the ninth to set himself up for the go-ahead run, were key moments in the Rockies’ 9-8 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park to continue the team’s best road trip of the season (6-1).

The homer, which gave the Rockies a 7-6 lead, was Hilliard’s first since his father, Jim Hilliard, passed away on Sunday after a lengthy and inspiring battle against ALS. Hilliard helped make it a winning night after Elias Díaz’s leadoff homer off Kyle Finnegan in the ninth, by singling, stealing second and scoring on Brendan Rodgers’ single.

Rodgers, who knocked a two-run homer earlier as the Rockies overcame a 6-2 deficit, hugged an emotional Hilliard in the dugout after the homer. Rodgers was a confidant and friend through Hilliard’s heavy-hearted climb as his Minor League roommate. Rodgers and his girlfriend still share a house with Hilliard and his wife, Katalin.

“I respect the hell out of him for what he’s doing, coming back a couple days after it happens, it’s not easy to do, not easy to flush something like that,” said Rodgers, choking up during the postgame interview. “It’s always something in the back of his mind. He knows what he’s doing it for.”

Hilliard’s mother, Tamara Hilliard, Mr. Hilliard and -- as he grew confident that his voice could have influence -- Sam carried the fight through Team Hilliard ALS. The effort raised funds for treatment and research into the disease.

All along they knew the advancements would not come in time to save Jim Hilliard, who kept his sense of humor and kept counseling his son through what has been a difficult season on the field and one of stress and sadness away from the park. Hilliard, who entered the night batting .195, endured two options to Triple-A Albuquerque covering 53 games.

The supportive texts from dad buzzed Sam’s phone for as long as his father’s technology would allow.

All-Star Germán Márquez struggled (six runs, eight hits in four innings), but Rodgers’ two-run shot (his 13th homer, 11th on the road) began the comeback, and Hilliard put the Rockies ahead. Not long after Hilliard’s homer, his mom tweeted words they believe came directly from Dad:

The Rockies are 38-31 in their last 69 games, because they are finding ways to win such games. Still, Friday’s victory -- finally brought home when Carlos Estévez forced a Lane Thomas grounder with runners at the corners in the bottom of the ninth -- was special.

“There's no better way to honor his family and his father than by going out there and playing baseball the way he plays it,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “And when he performs it successfully, it puts a lot of smiles on a lot of people's faces, ours included, within this clubhouse. So it’s a good thing.

“It just goes to show the mental strength of people, Sam, who go through these things, and continue to trudge forward.”